The transformation of Saudi Arabia and the opportunities for enhanced relations with the Visegrad countries
The first joint conference of the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade (IFAT) and the Prince Saud Feisal Institute for Diplomatic Studies (IDS) from Saudi Arabia took place on the 20th of September 2018, with the title “The transformation of Saudi Arabia and relations with the V4”.
The event – which was organized with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary as well as the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – consisted of three panels focusing on security policy dilemmas, economic issues, and the changing investment environment.
In his welcome speech, Márton Ugrósdy, the director of IFAT, highlighted the importance of dialogue in the context of the changing world order, which creates not just the possibility but also the necessity for cooperation. Abdallah al-Salamah, the director of IDS underlined that the Vision 2030 reform program is highly ambitious in its goals and thus shapes the future of the Kingdom, which is why he welcomes the organization of related conferences. Márton Schőberl, the Deputy State Secretary for Cultural Diplomacy argued that the Hungarian-Saudi bilateral relations gained special importance in the framework of the policy of global opening of Hungary. Mohammed Abdulhadi M. Al Matrafi, the ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia underlined that in order to build relations between the two countries, it is important to foster ties not just on the state level but also on the scientific level.
In the first panel focusing on security policy, Asaad al-Shamlan and Máté Szalai talked about the most relevant security challenges that effect both countries. In the discussion moderated by Péter Wagner, huge emphasis was put on the interpretation of Iranian foreign policy in the Middle East, especially after the American withdrawal from the nuclear deal. According to al-Shamlan, Saudi Arabia is a security-seeking state without any expansionist claims, whose security concerns are satisfied by the status quo, which is why the aim of its foreign policy is to maintain that current balance. Szalai argued that both states perceive the changing world order which compels both states to structural adjustment. The fight against terrorism and the stabilization of Iraq and Syria were also mentioned as a common interest.
The second panel was about the Saudi Vision 2030 reform program and the opportunities it creates for the Visegrad countries. Abdallah Al-Salamah gave an overview on the Saudi government’s reform plans, as well as the Kingdom’s economic relations with the V4 countries. The speech was followed by the lecture of Diána Szőke, who spoke of the changing global trends related to energy issues. In the panel discussion, which was moderated by Tamás Levente Molnár, the panellists touched upon issues related to economic and sociological effects of the Vision 2030 program, the chances of a successful diversification of the Saudi energy balance, the main lessons of the transition phase beginning of the 1990s in the former Eastern Bloc countries as well as the possibilities to improve energy cooperation between Saudi-Arabia and the Visegrad countries.
In the third panel focusing on the changing investment environment, Tamás Kozma (from the Antall József Knowledge Centre) described the bilateral economic ties in details and the development of Hungarian-Saudi relations in recent years. Meanwhile, Rija al-Marzouqi presented the economic development aims of the Saudi government for the next ten years. The participants of the panel moderated by Péter Goreczky agreed that both countries face challenges in the competition for investment, though both of them were optimistic about creating an attractive environment for foreign capital.
The conference ended with the concluding remarks of Abdallah al-Salamah and Máté Szalai. They agreed in the importance of continuing the cooperation and the necessity to familiarise with and understand different perceptions.