Coronavirus in India Photograph:( Zee News Network )
The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted the strength of the India-Saudi Arabia partnership.
The world today is faced with an unprecedented global crisis that has transcended boundaries and impacted not just the global economy but the daily lives of billions across the world. In the face of the COVID-19 adversity, it is imperative that world leaders exhibit camaraderie and empathy to steer through these testing times together. It is, therefore, heartening to see how some nations are leading the world by cooperating with other countries to combat the pandemic.
In this regard, the G20 group have rallied together to help fulfil the unmet needs of the hour. Under the presidency of Saudi Arabia, virtual conferences are being held frequently by the various sub-committees. The idea of the first virtual summit, for instance, was conceived during a phone call between India and Saudi Arabia last month. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been actively interacting with other countries – he spoke to his counterparts in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE, and Bahrain – it is the strategic partnership between Saudi Arabia and India that has been crucial in leading the fight against the pandemic.
India–Saudi ties have been evolving since the inception of Saudi Arabia. Recently, though, the ties have deepened even further. The two countries have been strategic allies and have worked to rapidly deepen trade, economic ties, along with their cultural and energy partnership.
Over the past decade, premiers of both countries have made high-profile visits which have led to enhanced cooperation. The India-Saudi partnership is enriched by sustained people-to-people interaction. Approximately three million Indians reside in Saudi Arabia and send remittances home. Bilateral trade between the countries amounts to approximately $34 billion.
Saudi Arabia is the 15th largest market in the world for Indian exports, with agricultural products being a sizeable export from India.
The two nations have stood together on a number of issues including the security of the region. They stand firmly against terrorism and have founded reputable knowledge sharing platforms. But it is the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak that has really highlighted the strength of the India-Saudi Arabia partnership.
In the face of the pandemic, the two regional powers have united to ensure the health and safety of all. Saudi Arabia recently announced a slew of measures to benefit millions of expatriates living there, including Indians. The Kingdom is providing coronavirus-related medical care free of charge to all expatriates. Saudi Arabia has been quick to launch country-wide awareness campaigns around COVID-19. These are being run in Hindi, Urdu and other languages so as not to leave anyone out.
In what can be termed an act of compassion, Saudi Arabia’s General Directorate of Passports has decided to extend the validity of exit and return visas that expire between February 25 and May 24, 2020, at no charge. And India has recognised Saudi Arabia for these gestures. In a telephonic conversation, India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar thanked Prince Faisal, Finance Minister of Saudi Arabia, for taking care of Indians there.
It is, therefore, not surprising that when it came to setting an agenda to combat COVID 19, both India and Saudi Arabia took the first step. The Extraordinary G20 Leaders’ Summit was one of the first international consultations on the issue. Held under the Saudi presidency, it witnessed participation from Prime Minister Modi. The meeting resulted in a commitment from member countries to overcome the pandemic, along with the World Health Organisation (WHO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank Group (WBG), United Nations (UN), and other international organisations.
Addressing international trade disruptions and safeguarding the economy were set as immediate priorities. Saudi Arabia has already pledged $500 million to various international organisations to support global efforts in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the second virtual meeting of G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman shared policy measures undertaken by the Indian government and the Reserve Bank of India to support the poor and the most vulnerable during the ongoing crisis. Furthermore, the G20 countries agreed to suspend debt service payments for the world's poorest countries through the end of the year.
At the Extraordinary G20 Energy Ministers’ virtual meeting, India’s Energy Minister Dharmendra Pradhan appreciated the collective efforts of OPEC and OPEC-plus countries. As Saudi Arabia is one of the largest suppliers of crude oil and LPG to India, the recent events have been followed very closely.
The situation today has led to strategic ties being formed in the healthcare sector as well. But it should be said that these ties could not have been formed if there weren’t existing ties between countries already.
The Middle East - and in particular Saudi Arabia - is very important in the Indian context; nearly 40 billion dollars are received in remittances from this region, with a bulk coming from Saudi Arabia. Apart from this, the region has very strong cultural ties to the subcontinent. It is, therefore, imperative that the security of this space be maintained and partnerships be deepened to minimise the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this coronavirus-driven scenario, both Saudi Arabia and India have a tall task ahead of them, one that be achieved through co-operation with other players in the region as well.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)