SAUDI CROWN PRINCE, BRISTLING FROM MILD CRITICISM OF BONE-SAW MURDER, GOES LOOKING FOR NEW FRIENDS
Mohammed bin Salman is turning to Asia after getting bad vibes from the U.S.
BY BESS LEVIN FEBRUARY 15, 2019 4:57 PM
Back in October, Saudi Arabia murdered journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi, and Donald Trump shrugged it off. Sure, U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the hit (which Saudi Arabia denied), and yes, lawmakers offered some vocal criticism of the regime, but all in all, things worked out pretty well for M.B.S., who received neither punishment nor condemnation from the White House over the grisly dismemberment of a Washington Post columnist and U.S. resident. And yet, according to The Wall Street Journal, the young prince is pissed!
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is embarking on a five-country sweep through Asia to nurture alliances there as the murder of a Saudi dissident and the Saudi-led war in Yemen continue to disrupt the kingdom’s relations with the U.S. and European powers.
Angered by Western criticism, Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has told aides that he would seek diplomatic support from Asian powers including China and India, according to senior Saudi government advisers. . . . The tour includes stops in China and India—for whom a stronger relationship with the heir to the Saudi throne could help secure energy resources for their expanding economies—along with Malaysia, Indonesia, and Pakistan.
According to reporters Jared Malsin and Summer Said, bin Salman “will likely receive a warmer reception on his Asia tour, as he focuses on trade and relations” with governments that are unlikely to raise pesky, downright offensive objections to Saudi Arabia’s less-than-stellar human-rights record. (In addition to the Khashoggi killing and Yemen, Human Rights Watch estimated last year that the Kingdom executed 48 people in the first four months of 2018 alone, many for nonviolent offenses.)
The tour is set to begin on Sunday in Pakistan, where the crown prince is bringing the promise of billions of dollars in support to an ally facing an economic crisis. Prince Mohammed is expected to sign at least $12 billion in agreements, including plans for a new oil refinery, investments in renewable energy, and an umbrella agreement to invest in the mining sector. He is also expected to approve an agreement to supply $3 billion in oil on a deferred payment basis. . . . In China, Prince Mohammed will meet the leaders of a country that is an important customer for oil and gas exports—Saudi Arabia is China’s largest supplier of crude. Beijing is itself investing in infrastructure and trade to extend its influence throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
While M.B.S. may indeed be feeling sensitive about the U.S., whose outrage over Khashoggi he reportedly couldn’t comprehend, there may still be an opportunity to patch things up. Jared Kushner, his special friend in the White House, will shortly embark on a tour of the Middle East that will include a pit stop in
Saudi Arabia. Said pit stop will presumably entail an intimate dinner in which the First Son-in-Law will assure the prince that everyone in Washington has his back, and that together, they’ll get through this.