Skip to main content

Saudi crown prince looks to Asia trip to boost image

Facing fallout in the West over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hopes his upcoming trip to Asia will project an image of business as usual.
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is pictured while meeting with the Tunisian President during his arrival at the presidential palace in Carthage on the eastern outskirts of the capital Tunis on November 27, 2018. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP)        (Photo credit should read FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images)

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is traveling to five Asian countries later this month in his first foreign travels since the G-20 summit in Argentina. The Saudis desperately want to portray this as a business as usual trip, suggesting the fallout from the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul is over. Details of the itinerary have been kept vague, probably for security reasons and fears of hostile demonstrations.

The crown prince, commonly referred to by his initials MBS, will first travel to Pakistan on Sunday. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan was one of a handful of foreign leaders to visit Riyadh last October for an investment conference that was boycotted by most investors because of the premeditated murder of Khashoggi on Oct. 2. The crown prince is widely believed to have ordered the murder and dispatched a team of his henchmen to carry out the gruesome killing. The White House continues to try to shield him from investigation and sanctions, but the media and Congress are determined to hold him accountable.

For his attendance at the Riyadh conference and posing for pictures with the crown prince, Imran Khan was handsomely rewarded. He came home to Islamabad with over $6 billion in loans and deferred oil payments. The Saudis encouraged the United Arab Emirates to match their deal.

Despite the Saudi aid, the kingdom is not popular in Pakistan. Four years ago the Pakistani parliament voted unanimously to reject MBS' request for Pakistani troops to fight his war in Yemen. The Saudi war in Yemen is still deeply unpopular with Pakistanis. The crown prince is bringing his own vehicles and scores of bodyguards for security and the Pakistani army will be out in force to protect him.

The crown prince is bringing an entourage of over 1,100 people, including many Saudi business leaders. He is expected to sign multiple deals worth up to $15 billion in investments in Pakistan, including at its new Chinese-built port of Gwadar on the Indian Ocean.

After Pakistan he goes on to China, Malaysia, Indonesia and, finally, India. China and India are major consumers of Saudi oil. The Saudis are eager to attract foreign investors to the kingdom, especially as many in the West are leery of business with the Saudi prince after the Khashoggi murder and the continued revelations about his role in the killing.

As defense minister, MBS is responsible for the construction of a missile factory at a base for the intermediate ballistic missiles provided by Beijing back in the 1980s. The missile factory was only discovered last month. The Chinese and Pakistanis are both suspected of assisting in the construction of the factory. The two have a long history of cooperation in missile and nuclear weapons development. MBS’ visit to Islamabad and Beijing will doubtless rekindle suspicions of clandestine trilateral cooperation.

Indonesia sends more pilgrims to the hajj each year than any other country, but relations between Riyadh and Jakarta have long been frosty. Abuse of Indonesian domestic workers in the kingdom keeps the relationship strained. Past promises of large-scale Saudi investments have not materialized. The crown prince is eager to repair his image and reboot the relationship.

The visit to India comes in the midst of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign for re-election. The crown prince is likely to face some harsh media criticism over the Khashoggi murder from the usually contentious Indian press.

MBS was snubbed by the king of Morocco on his last trip and the president of Algeria did not receive him, citing poor health. The Saudis are eager for a better reception this time in South and East Asia.

Saudi King Salman made a similar trip to Asia in April 2017. King Abdullah made Asia the choice for his first foreign travel after ascending to the throne. The kingdom is increasingly tied economically to Asia. With the crown prince a pariah in the West, he needs a smooth trip in the East.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

Gulf Briefing Gulf Briefing

Gulf Briefing

Top GCC stories in your inbox each week

Trend Reports

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (4th R) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (3rd L) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 22, 2019. (Photo by HOW HWEE YOUNG / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read HOW HWEE YOUNG/AFP via Getty Images)

From roads to routers: The future of China-Middle East connectivity

A general view shows the solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh, on March 29, 2018. - On March 27, Saudi announced a deal with Japan's SoftBank to build the world's biggest solar plant. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Regulations on Middle East renewable energy industry starting to take shape

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial