Saudi Arabia's King Salman speaks with Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak during a Memorandum of Understanding signing ceremony in Putrajaya, Malaysia February 27, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Saudi Arabia's King Salman speaks with Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak during a Memorandum of Understanding signing ceremony in Putrajaya, Malaysia February 27, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Saudi King starts Japan leg of Asia tour

Visit comes as Saudi Aramco prepares for world's biggest initial public offering, which could value the company at as much as US$2 trillion, according to some estimates

March 11, 2017 1:29 PM (UTC+8)

King Salman of Saudi Arabia arrives in Tokyo for a three-day visit starting March 12, part of a month-long Asia tour that is seen as building investment and security ties with countries that are some of the biggest customers for the kingdom’s oil.

The king will be making his first trip to Japan since assuming the Saudi crown two years ago, signaling the country is looking for new investment opportunities outside the turmoil in the Arab world. After Japan, the king will travel to Beijing, having completed visits to Malaysia and Indonesia.

In Malaysia, Saudi Aramco — which owns 15% of the Japanese oil refiner Showa Shell Sekiyu — took a stake in a multibillion dollar refinery venture with Malaysia’s Petronas. State-owned Aramco is also planning the world’s biggest initial public offering, which could value the company at $2 trillion.

Economic advisers accompanying the King will discuss investment in light of a September 2016 agreement between Saudi Aramco and Mizuho Bank, aimed at luring Japanese firms to Saudi Arabia. The King will meet Japan’s emperor and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The king’s tour is also seen as possibly cementing and building on new international alliances as policies of the Donald Trump administration remain unclear.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has boosted military and security cooperation with countries in Southeast Asia. Saudi special forces have also trained in China. In Malaysia, Salman signed an agreement for advanced military cooperation with Kuala Lumpur, and announced the creation of the King Salman Center for Global Peace in Malaysia.

When addressing the Indonesian parliament, Salman called for a united front against global terrorism and signed a security pact with Indonesia.

During the Japan visit, the huge Saudi delegation will handle side agreements, like academic exchanges, scholarly cooperation, athletics, water processing, and desalination.

Bilateral Saudi-Japanese relations kicked off in 1938, when an envoy for the kingdom’s founder, Ibn Saud, traveled to Japan to attend the opening of the Tokyo Mosque. Japan’s thirst for oil and gas made Tokyo almost fully dependent on the Gulf for more than 80% of its oil supply, with 41% being met by Saudi Arabia.

More recently in 2014, the two countries started discussions that would enable the export of Japanese nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia, while Saudi exports to Japan rose to US$42.5 billion from US$13.1 billion.

Although two Japanese citizens were beheaded by ISIS in early 2015, the country doesn’t feel threatened by the rise of Islamic fanaticism. It is too distant from geographically from the Arab World to worry about ISIS, has no ethnic Muslim majority to worry about, and has no boots on the ground in the Middle East.

It is a major tourist destination however, and a magnet for international conventions, making it an attractive target for ISIS, if any of its terrorists manage to reach Japanese soil.

Tokyo will be hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2012 Summer Olympics and wants to make sure that the ISIS threat — currently low but not completely negligible — is firmly under control and can rely on Saudi intelligence to help achieve that.

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