Saudi monarch embarks on South East Asia tour

Sunday 05/03/2017
Starting point. Indonesian President Joko Widodo (R) walks with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at the presidential palace in Jakarta, on March 2nd

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.”