Malaysia-Saudi Arabia: New Strategic Venture And Beijing’s Renewed Saudi Card – Analysis

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s visit to Saudi Arabia signals strategic intent of the country in banking on Riyadh’s renewed ambitious drive in modernisation and the resulting positive spin off effects. Both KL and Riyadh are in similar geopolitical and economic settings, with similar concerns and the need to reorient the economic fundamentals.

Both are in a transitional period of economic transformation from an oil based and fossil fuel led economic setting to one that is more transcending and future oriented that will need critical investments in digitalisation and new economic drivers.

While Malaysia is more deeply trapped between Beijing and Washington, Saudi has greater bargaining influence and power in determining the course of Sino-US relations with its oil production control and influence in OPEC. Its regional leadership status and military capacity as well as huge capital support also render them more superior and having more options to reap the benefits of Western rules based assurance, and Beijing’s market and joint capital pledge.

Riyadh realises Washington will need its regional diplomatic shaping capacity more in the future, in relying on Saudi’s capital and military expansion to feed America’s export of arms and security apparatus, It remains crucial in helping the West to have a greater sanctions impact through its role in oil supply control and influence.

Saudi Arabia’s new transformation drive will be based on a new economic foundation and parameter, pillared on digital and green economy, service oriented setting with focus on high technology and critical scientific advancement with a knowledge based orientation.

The visionary ambitions of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman paved the way for an unprecedented wave of institutional and structural transformation, reflected in Vision 2030, image changing efforts, the futuristic city of NEOM, the pursuit of a new Saudi airline and readiness by Saudi to normalize ties with Israel all signal a new intent by Saudi to project a new phase of rejuvenation based on building a new brand of a modernist approach and to reduce regional threat and systemic barriers to establish itself as the new force.

Riyadh has always seen Malaysia as a vital geopolitical, economic and soft power partner, with key areas of collaboration targeting Malaysia’s strength in critical technologies of the future which are vital for Saudi’s modernization drive. These include Malaysia’s semiconductor and microchip capacity, food security, digital and green economy and higher education and critical research domains. Investments in key infrastructures as well advanced engineering fields and joint research remain of common interests for both Riyadh and KL, tapping into one another’s resource, strength capacity.

In Riyadh’s soft power rebranding, it will need Malaysia’s established modern Islamist appeal and Saudi wanted to capitalise on the Southeast Asian region both for economic and geopolitical purposes, with important trade routes and oil routes that are critical for Saudi and in ensuring food and new energy assurances.

Other areas that will be crucial in which Malaysia is poised to play a role will be in Islamic finance and banking and governance approach, rural-urban development strategy, youth empowerment , women equality, balanced Islamic and modern development domain, and many others.

Malaysia needed Saudi’s readiness in capital and investment in common critical areas of high technology, digital economy and new inventions in resource sustainability.Human capital development and high impact research fields including scientific innovations and higher education will be important focus areas.

In ensuring both nations’ bankable fossil fuel revenue in powering developmental capital, Saudi Aramco and Petronas are projected to deepen partnerships and joint ventures particularly involving the transition and investment on new energy and the focus on ESG.

Malaysia wanted to further enhance its global Islamic credentials and to play a bigger leadership role in OIC and among the Islamic countries. By deepening special ties with Riyadh, it will continue to strengthen Malaysia’s progressive Islamic image and appeal, giving PM Anwar the chance to further enhance its Islamist credentials and in securing the needed image and appeal for greater economic involvement and investment in Malaysia with the new leadership and stability the world yearns for.

It will also provide the perfect timing for PM Anwar to introduce the Madani concept in incorporating the needed future driven and modernist element in the new transformation drive in Saudi and in OIC, which will begin the start of the global expansion of the concept that will leverage on Anwar’s own personal appeal at the global Muslim world.

Malaysia sees Saudi as maintaining its prominent leadership and geopolitical role in the Middle East, further deepened by Mohamad bin Salman’s renewed and ambitious transformation plan for the country and the region.

KL will stand to gain by maintaining the historical close ties and rapport with Riyadh, and to join on the bandwagon of rebuilding the modernisation drive and process for Saudi with mutually beneficial interdependence on critical areas.

These include Malaysia being able to transfer expertise in counterterrorism and deradicalisation capacities, projecting moderate and modernist Islam, and to support in ensuring food security and supply chain resilience that will be crucial for Riyadh.

Higher education remains a critical arena, and high impact scientific and technological superiority are being prioritised, looking to Malaysia as an emulated model of modern Islamic country that is open, vibrant and with immense potential to further exchange human capital and knowledge creation in developing these core industries.

Saudi Arabia is geared for global eminence through expansion of a rebranding effort and in projecting a new perspective and appeal of Saudi that transcends beyond regional leadership alone.

It faces no real looming threat for now, at least in conventional threat setting with the series of regional diplomatic moves with Iran, Israel, Syria and others.

Although mutual suspicion and wariness with historical hostility run deep with Iran, Saudi is skillful and wise in diplomatic statecraft in seeing the inevitable need to establish a constructive relationship with Iran that will fuel its regional and larger global ambition.

With growing internal socio-economic and demographic challenges with rising inequality, unemployment rate and a booming young demographic whose new demands and needs are hard to placate, the Kingdom realises a challenging future that will first require painful reform and transformation.

This can be seen in the Crown Prince’s ambitious pursuit to cement his legacy and claim in transforming Saudi’s traditional trap and dogma, and to pursue a new modernisation plan that will need immigration of skilled and knowledgeable human capital and technology.

China’s ever continuing reliance on energy security with addictive dependence on Saudi oil will continue in the foreseeable future, in which it is cognisant that Riyadh is able to expand its energy influence and regional trade and oil route assurance. In brokering the diplomatic agreement between Tehran and Riyadh, Beijing hopes to grow its global alliance capacity, and to deter Washington’s grip in the region by providing the alternative to the West’s high bar set with restrictive normative criteria imposed. It also has the opening to ride on the alternative to the democratic model that the West has for decades tried to impose on the region to detrimental implications, and in riding on this regional sentiment on the negative fallout of the West’s actions.

By letting Beijing to broker the diplomatic agreement with Tehran, Riyadh is sending a message to Washington that it has full options and capacities in its policy approach and affiliation, that it is poised to be the leading power in the region, which will have full diplomatic leeway and clout to determine regional direction, in which Beijing is increasingly attracted to.

Riyadh could have done it without a third party involvement, but letting Beijing to take the credit has its own symbolic meaning.

China is increasingly reliant on Saudi Arabia to be one of the top investment destinations and source of energy security, in which Riyadh will hope to receive easier favour with its oil asset card, deriving greater economic and financial benefit from Beijing. Riyadh is also banked upon as a crucial and strategic dark horse and Achilles heel in further cornering and distracting Washington’s options and openings.

Saudi Arabia seeks the strength and capacity of Beijing in new critical technologies including AI, advanced engineering, space dominance capacity and other critical geopolitical empowering tools and security assets including precision guided missiles and on cyber capacities.

While the US is preoccupied with Ukraine and containing China in the Indo Pacific, Beijing seeks to exploit the vacuum in the Middle East with both soft power charm offensive and hard power projections and postures.

China wanted regional goodwill, and to seek greater confidence and trust from regional players in which it cast its bet on Riyadh to be the most powerful regional power. While Riyadh will continue to depend on Washington for its primary security and defence support, it will have greater chips and cards now to exert more pressure on Washington to roll back policies or approaches that will harm Riyadh’s future regional ambitions. Riyadh will capitalise on its huge capital in determining the buying option for Washington’s arms and weapons, and to play its controlling power over OPEC in influencing the depth and direction of Washington’s internal political calculations and economic projections.

While Indo Pacific remains the main theatre of strategic importance, the Middle East continues to venture into its own rebuilding process, courting the best long term returns to individual and regional interests.