The Saudi King and I: What Happened When Salman met Shinzo

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For the first time in 46 years, a member of the Saudi royal family visited Japan. And his entrance managed to put all others to shame. Approximately ten aircrafts were needed to bring the delegation, numbering over 1,000 people, into the country. Over 1,000 rooms were booked in high-end hotels in Tokyo (and presumably one of those questionable “hotels” in Shinjuku for that cousin no one likes.) To top it all off, 500 limos were drafted from across the country to chaperone the delegation.

On March 13th, a meeting which started at 6:30pm and was over by 7:05pm, saw Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, and Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, King of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (a.k.a. the man with the longest title in the world) conduct a meeting.

What was this meeting all about?

Some say it was to see how many limos Japan had, while others attest it was about putting into action months of groundwork for a new economic-political relationship. I still can’t decide. At the end of the 35-minute meeting, three major documents were signed, plus an extra one which agreed to no more than 800 delegates for the next meeting.

Unlike the recent Russian meeting with Japan, both countries were trying to achieve the same outcome: deeper ties, economic prosperity, and trying to understand how PPAP is still a thing. Saudi Arabia was looking to diversify its economy away from a primary oil-exportation economy as part of its “Saudi Vision 2030”, while Japan was aiming to increase its exports, investments and tourism – especially from markets outside of Asia.

What is the Saudi Vision 2030?

Beyond it being a better version of 20-20 vision, the “2030 Vision” represents Saudi Arabia’s attempts to stave off its own economic decline.

With its primary focus being on oil exportation, and the start of March alone seeing a two percent drop in global oil revenue, Saudi Arabia’s economy isn’t looking too bright at the moment. [1] The 2030 Vision is a plan to reverse this – a vision of how Saudi Arabia might hope to change for 2030 by primarily shifting the focus of its economy from oil to other streams.

The deal also aims to bolster the Japanese economy, with the agreement hoping to create ¥600 trillion per year – mainly through trade, business investment and tourism. It makes sense for Japan to be involved in this shift, as Saudi Arabia is the top oil supplier for Japan.

The “Vision” also hopes to develop areas of cultural diversity, soft values and innovation between the two countries. In addition to this, Japan is also gearing up to support Saudi Arabian talent in areas such as animation, video games, energy conservation and nuclear power, and even martial art seminars.

Finally, the two agreed to develop joint economic zones which would allow large investment from foreign businesses – specifically Japanese – known as the “Economic Showcase Zone”.

Money, money, money. What does it all mean?

As you might be able to tell, the main focus of the “Vision”, beyond chopstick lessons to beat up ninjas and karate lessons to eat food (did I get that the right way round?), is money. Specifically, how Saudi Arabia can evolve to compete in a world that is slowly moving away from oil.

The plans to bring about joint-economic investment is already starting to see the light of day. Saudi Arabia is hoping to privatize its state-run oil company Saudi Aramco. The Japanese government are hoping that the plan would allow the Tokyo Stock Exchange to host Saudi Aramco shares – enabling traders in Tokyo to buy shares of the company. Seiko Noda, the Japanese trade minister, hopes that combining the economic deals with Abenomics, would create a “synergy” that would yield great benefits. [2]

Beyond this, the two agreed to help promote 31 separate projects to help manufacture and develop supply chains in Saudi Arabia.

It’s official, Saudi Arabia and Japan are now “In a relationship”

The two countries went on to confirm that they have elevated their relationship to a “strategic partnership” – apparently the two had been exchanging chocolates for some time, and everyone was all wondering when they’d finally go realpolitik official. [3]

Sources

[1] Reuters
[2] JapanTimes
[3] Mofa.go.jp

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British teacher, Japan explorer and writer. I will exchange witty jokes for Marmite.

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