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Saudis conclude Pacific tour

The Saudi tour of the Pacific came to an end on Thursday evening with Minister for Tourism of Saudi Arabia, Ahmed Aqeel AlKhateeb meeting Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama.

It seems that this year is going to be unprecedented with a number of foreign powers touring the Pacific.

For the Saudis, this is the case as well. Never before have they shown so much interest in the region. They have travelled lavishly on a private jet making Fiji their base of operations.

Throughout the week they have travelled to Tonga, Kiribati, Palau, and Vanuatu and will make their final stopover in the Solomon Islands as they head back home.

According to the Saudi delegation they are making diplomatic ties stronger in the Pacific and at the same time gathering support from the region to host the World Expo in 2030.

Mr Bainimarama said Fiji is working closely with its development partners to advance a sustainable and resilient recovery that builds back better from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Saudi tour of the Pacific came to an end on Thursday evening with Minister for Tourism of Saudi Arabia, Ahmed Aqeel AlKhateeb meeting Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama. Picture: Fijian Government

In light of Fiji’s vast potential as the hub of the Pacific, Mr Bainimarama spoke on opportunities for strengthened regional cooperation with Saudi Arabia, particularly in areas of socio-economic development.

Fiji has affirmed its support for Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the World Expo 2030.

During the meeting, potential cooperation in the tourism sector, trade and investment, green energy and technology were also discussed.

There was also an exchange of views on advancing shared aspirations, particularly in accelerating climate actions, ocean conservation, and initiatives promoting sustainable development.

When handing over a Fijian tanoa (bowl) to the Minister, Mr Bainimarama said: “Pacific people gather around a tanoa to blamelessly discuss any issue –– no matter how difficult. At a meeting with the Saudi Arabian Minister for Tourism and the Head of the Saudi Development Fund, I stressed how much our nations can do together on the way to a net-zero future.”

Mr AlKhateeb expressed his sincere appreciation to Prime Minister Bainimarama for the opportunity to meet in person and the kind hospitality accorded to him during his visit to Fiji this week.

He commended the Prime Minister for his strong leadership and commitment to the global issue of climate change.

Fijian PM meets with Saudi Arab Tourism minister Ahmed Aqeel AlKhateeb. Picture: Fijian Government

He said the visit to Fiji and the region is to seek stronger partnership opportunities in the post-pandemic era, particularly as nations worldwide work collectively to build resilience and rebuild from the pandemic and the worsening impacts of climate change.

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Private jets have been spotted in the Pacific skies and it seems another ‘superpower’ has interests in the region.

With China and the rest of the world’s diplomatic showcase almost coming to a close, the Saudis are the next lot who have shown interest in the Pacific.

This week Saudi Arabia’s Tourism Minister, Ahmed Al Khateeb, met with Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Bob Loughman to discuss diplomatic relations with the Vanuatu Government.

In a statement issued by the government, Director of Foreign Affairs Yvon Basil said the purpose of Minister Khateeb’s visit was for Saudi Arabia to gain support for its bid to host the World Expo event in 2030.

Mr. Basil said Prime Minister Loughman confirmed Vanuatu’s support to Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Khateeb has also extended invitations to Mr. Loughman to Saudi Arabia to sign diplomatic relations with the government in the coming months.

As it stands, there are no diplomatic ties between the two nations and it may just take a pen to paper to formally begin this.

The private jet used for travel by the Saudi delegation. Picture: Government of Vanuatu.

A day earlier, the same Saudi delegation was in Palau as they met with President Surangel Whipps Jr. Similar talks as Vanuatu took place in Palau and an invitation was also extended to Palau to come to Saudi Arabia for more talks on diplomatic relationships.

There is a plan for the Saudi group to visit Fiji as well and discuss diplomatic relations.

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On Tuesday, delegates from the UAE Red Crescent were in Fiji. They had helped in the building of a school in Navua and another where a school wing was relocated, worth FJ$2.1 million.

The UAE Red Crescent is a humanitarian organisation.

However, the word is a Saudi delegation is expected in Fiji in the coming weeks. On Wednesday, they are expected in Tonga.

Pacific nations have come to recognise the strength of their sovereignty and have indulged in various cooperation with international partners to sign deals that will help them in development.

The Saudi delegation at the Vanuatu Airport on Monday. Picture Government of Vanuatu.

The Pacific nations have also solidified their commitment to the Pacific Islands Forum. This means the region has a mechanism and a united stand when dealing with issues affecting them as a collective.

The recent spate of interest by the ‘superpowers’ seem to point at perhaps a similar interest all of these nations have.

Experts say it most probably is the resources that can be found in the Pacific, which include fish stocks and minerals attained through deep-sea mining.

In the case of the Saudis, they have been on record as saying they were boosting investment into tourism by US$67 billion. The island nations could be a source of human capital for the tourism industry.

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