Saudi Arabia: Salman cuts a dash through South-east Asia

Published in GSN, 9 March 2017

Local press have been effusive in their coverage of King Salman Bin Abdulaziz in the early weeks of his month-long tour around Asia, which began in Malaysia in late February and also takes in Indonesia, Brunei, Japan, China and the Maldives. On each step of the journey, the scale of his entourage has prompted astonished headlines, with 1,500 people including 25 princes and ten ministers travelling with the king in a fleet of Boeing 747 and 777 aircraft. It was impossible to get a room at the St Regis or Le Meridien hotels in Kuala Lumpur, which had been booked out by the delegation and its sundry hangers-on. “They’ve brought a lot of foreign exchange into the country”, one Malaysian told GSN approvingly. The Saudi authorities will no doubt be delighted with the attention, providing some support for the idea that the kingdom can be a significant trading partner and is keen to do more business with Asian counterparts.

The trip has led to a host of memorandums of understanding (MoUs) in areas such as halal products, construction and hajj visitors, but the most eye-catching deal so far has been the $7bn investment by Saudi Aramco into the 300,000 b/d Refinery & Petrochemical Integrated Development (Rapid) project being developed by Petroliam Nasional (Petronas) on the southern tip of peninsula Malaysia. Saudi Aramco will meet most of the crude feedstock requirements of the refinery, with natural gas, power and other utilities to be supplied by Petronas.

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