Saudi king’s slight

Riyadh owes explanation on Korea’s exclusion in Salman’s tour

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was visiting China on the final leg of his one-month six-nation Asia swing that included Japan. South Korea was conspicuously absent on the king’s itinerary.

Korea-Saudi annual trade amounted to over $30 billion with Korea being the fourth largest importer of Saudi oil. Ex-President Park Geun-hye visited the kingdom in 2015, making the fourth presidential visit to the kingdom since their 1962 establishment of diplomatic ties. S-Oil, the oil refinery 63 percent owned by Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state oil company, accounts for a significant market share in Korea and its stock is traded on the Korean main bourse.

Therefore, Salman’s decision to skip Korea despite these important bilateral relations, by all means has enough grounds to be taken as a snub by Korea and raises a couple of questions.

First, does the Saudi king not take Korea as a friend?

If he doesn’t, then Korea needs to look to other countries to diversify the sources of its oil imports. Especially, it appears that the kingdom didn’t even bother to consult the Korean government on his visit and this kind of slight without a corrective action often sours nation-to-nation ties for a long time to come. The Saudi kings have rarely visited overseas_ theJapan visit was the first in 47 years after the last visit.

Also it is obvious that the king has a short memory, having forgotten how he received a warm welcome when he visited Korea as one of princes who had little chance of inheriting the throne in 1999.

Second, will Saudi Arabia exclude Korea at the risk of ruining the mutually beneficial partnership to help the king’s plan to reduce his country’s dependence on oil and turn the kingdom into a developed diverse economy?

True, Saudi Arabia will offer many great business opportunities for other countries and Korea will certainly want to participate in them. But by denying Korea, a technologically astute nation that contributed a great deal to the Middle East development in the 1970s and 1980s, the king would make the mistake of reducing his country’s scope of choice for partnerships. That would be a lapse of judgment considering his plan is being pushed at a time when oil prices are sinking like a stone with the nation suffering a 10-percent jobless rate and half of its work force being imported from outside.

Also, Salman’s visit comes ahead of the initial public offering of the state-owned Aramco, dubbed as the largest deal of the century. During his visit to Japan, he offered big deals and is expected to do the same in China.

Finally, if the king decided not to visit Korea for the absence of a president, he would have been ill advised because an acting president has been in place and, more importantly, his visit would be as much to meet politicians and for a show of good will to the Korean people. He may well check his ambassador here or the head of S-Oil to see whether they counseled him wisely.

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