Saudi king in Malaysia on first leg of Asia tour

KUALA LUMPUR: Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud arrived in Malaysia on Sunday to kick off a multi-nation tour aimed at boosting his country’s economic ties with Asia.

The visit is the first by a Saudi king to Malaysia in more than a decade, as the Arab nation courts Asian investors for the sale of a 5 per cent stake in state firm Aramco in 2018, expected to be the world’s biggest IPO.

Malaysian state television on Sunday showed live footage of the octogenarian king descending from his plane on an escalator flown in with his delegation. He was received by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak before being whisked away in a heavily guarded convoy for a state ceremony at Malaysia’s parliament grounds.

The leader was greeted in parliament with a 21-gun salute, local media reported.

King Salman also plans to visit Indonesia, Brunei, Japan, China, the Maldives and Jordan “to meet with the leaders of those countries to discuss bilateral relations and regional and international issues of common concern,” a royal court statement carried on Saudi Arabia’s state media SPA reported.

Government sources with knowledge of the visit said a 600-strong delegation will accompany the king on his four-day visit to Malaysia, where cooperation on energy developments will be on the agenda.

State oil firm Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) and Saudi Aramco will sign an agreement on Tuesday to collaborate in Malaysia’s Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (RAPID) project, a boost for the Southeast Asian economy which has been reeling under weak global oil prices.

Relations between the two countries have been in the spotlight over the last two years after Saudi Arabia was dragged into a multi-billion dollar corruption scandal at Malaysian state fund 1MDB, founded by Mr Razak.

The Malaysian prime minister has denied any wrongdoing in the money-laundering case which is now being investigated by several countries, including the United Sates, Switzerland and Singapore.

A Malaysian government inquiry found that nearly $700 million transferred to the prime minister’s bank account in 2013 was a donation from the Saudi royal family and most of it was returned.

The last time a Saudi king visited Malaysia was in 2006, when King Abdullah, King Salman’s half-brother and predecessor, flew in with a 300-member delegation.

“Saudi Arabian investment in Malaysia is expected to create thousands of jobs and we are proud that Malaysian firms have been chosen to undertake projects at some of the most prestigious locations in Saudi Arabia,” Mr Razak said in a statement on Friday.

The Malaysian prime minister said the Saudi king’s visit would strengthen ties between the two countries in fighting terrorism based on a strong belief in tolerance, moderation and comprehensive security of Islam, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

Besides travelling with his own private escalator, King Salman has also flown in two personal cars. His entourage has also completely booked out three luxury hotels in Kuala Lumpur for the duration of the visit.

After Malaysia, the king is expected to travel to Jakarta and Bali in Indonesia from March 1-9 with an even larger entourage of 1,500 people, followed by a trip to Japan from March 12 to 14, officials in those countries said.

King Salman is expected to spend the last two weeks of March on holiday in the Maldives, according to a Maldives diplomat. Local newspaper Mihaaru reported that three resorts have been reserved for his stay.

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