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Saudi Arabia is Ali Baba and 40 bandits in the decarbonisation era

From 16-19 July 2023, Prime Minister Kishida visited three Middle Eastern countries. On his first day in Saudi Arabia, he met with the country’s Crown Prince Mohammed and confirmed that the two countries would strengthen cooperation in the areas of decarbonisation and rare earths. Vision 2030, presented by Prince Mohammed in 2016, is an economic and social reform initiative to diversify the economy to break away from the ‘Middle East = Oil’ stereotype and to adapt to the decarbonisation era.

As part of this Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia is implementing the NEOM project on the Red Sea coast. One of the main features is the construction of The Line, a huge 170 km long smart city, but another highlight is Oxagon, a renewable energy export hub. The plan is to use solar and wind power to produce hydrogen, which will then be converted into ammonia and exported worldwide.

One day, Ali Baba, a poor oil seller, secretly overhears the bandits’ code word. He then uses the password to break into the cave while the bandits are out, steals the treasure and becomes very rich. The thieves, realising who the culprits are, sneak into Ali Baba’s mansion under cover of oil bags, but are repelled with hot oil thanks to the resourcefulness of Ali Baba’s servants.
The episode, which is said to have been created by the French, illustrates that the stereotype of ‘Middle East = oil’ has existed for hundreds of years.

Saudi Arabia is rich in renewable energy, but the technology to utilise it is said to be immature. For this reason, Prime Minister Kishida’s visit was accompanied by a Japanese start-up working on the production of synthetic fuels (eFuel). It remains to be seen whether Saudi Arabia and Japan can break away from their traditional relationship as oil-producing and energy-consuming countries and present a new partnership to the world.