The two faces of the crown prince

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The two faces of the crown prince

The author is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo Innovation Lab.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman Al Saud, 37, left gifts and a strong impression during his short visit to Korea. Prince Muhammad is a major shareholder of Saudi state-run oil company Aramco, the second largest company in the world after Apple with a $2 trillion market cap. A photo illustrating the combined assets of Korean business leaders who met him is not on par with him online. In commemoration of his visit to Korea, he reportedly signed business contracts and MOUs worth a total $30 billion with Korean companies.

Bin Salman means “son of Salman.” His name means “Muhammad, the son of Salman in the Al Saud family.” His father King Salman succeeded his brother King Nayef in 2015. In 2017, he deposed his nephew Muhammad bin Nayef, who was the crown prince, and named his son to crown prince. In September, the king appointed the crown prince as prime minister, breaking the tradition of the king concurrently serving as prime minister. The king and the crown prince broke the Saudi royal tradition of inheriting the throne among brothers and started a new era of passing down the throne to the son.

Prince Muhammad is a reformer. He took the lead in enhancing human rights by allowing women to drive and watch performances and sports. As a major oil producer, Saudi Arabia has been criticized for its lukewarm stance on the transition to green energy, even though it accounts for 4 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. He has started the challenge of building an eco-friendly smart city in the desert with the NEOM city project.

He is also a man who rose to power through a bloody purge. He had arrested people who posed threats to his power in the name of cleaning up corruption, and the condition for release was to pay 70 percent of their assets. His cousin, Mansour bin Muqrin Al Saud, died in a suspicious helicopter accident. The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence pointed to Prince Muhammad to be the background of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination in 2018. Outraged by the murder, U.S. President Joe Biden openly declared at the time that he would make Prince Muhammad an “international outcast.”

However, amid the struggle with high oil prices in July, U.S. President Joe Biden fist bumped Prince Muhammad. The U.S. government recently applied immunity, often granted to the head of state, to Prince Muhammad in a lawsuit involving Khashoggi’s assassination. It is a scene suggesting that justification is only a package for actual interests in international relations.
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