Saudi monarch embarks on South East Asia tour
London - Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, looking to boost the country’s economic diversification programmes and enhance diplomatic relations, has taken a very large group on what is to be a month-long tour of several South- East Asian countries.
With stops in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Japan, China, and the Maldives, the king and his 1,000-person contingent are pitching the ambitious Vision 2030 plan that seeks to expand the Saudi economy beyond its traditional oil-based foundation. It marked King Salman’s first trip to the region since ascending to the throne in January 2015.
Oil was still high on the tour’s agenda, and one of the first announced deals was that Saudi Aramco would be investing in a giant Malaysian oil refinery project. The agreement was said to amount to a Saudi $7 billion investment in Malaysia’s Petronas.
“This is a huge investment and is very significant,” said Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Aramco will take a 50% stake in select ventures and assets in the Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development project developed by Petronas, a statement said.
“Malaysia offers tremendous growth opportunities and today’s agreement further strengthens Saudi Aramco’s position as the leading supplier of petroleum feedstock to Malaysia and South-East Asia,” Aramco Chief Executive Officer Amin Nasser said.
The announcement provided a productive start to the king’s trip with Razak escorting the king to the Malaysian parliament.
“We are proud of this relationship as the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Malaysia are closely cooperating for serving the Islamic nation,” Razak told the Malaysian National News Agency.
King Salman and his entourage on March 1st arrived in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, marking the first visit by a Saudi king in almost half a century. The king was met by Indonesian President Joko Widodo and received an extravagant official welcome from a crowd of thousands chanting selamat datang — Indonesian for “welcome”.
“The king’s visit has become the starting point for the improvement of relations between Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, which are united by Islam, brotherhood and a mutually beneficial relationship,” Widodo said in a televised speech during the Saudi king’s visit.
Indonesia, the region’s largest oil producer, is looking for increased foreign investment, particularly for its underdeveloped petroleum industry. While in Jakarta, the kingdom pledged $1 billion in development funds, including a deal between Aramco and local oil company Pertamina for a joint venture refinery worth $6 billion.
Other memorandums of understanding signed included pledges to combat human and drug trafficking and terrorism.
In a speech March 2nd at the Indonesian House of Representatives King Salman called for a united front in dealing with terrorism.
“The challenges facing the Islamic nation, particularly, and the world generally, topped by the phenomenon of extremism and terrorism, the clash of cultures, non-respect for sovereignty of countries and interference in their internal affairs, necessitate that we stand united in confronting these challenges,” King Salman said.
“We should close ranks in combating terrorism, radicalism and strive to bring world peace for the benefit of all of us.”