KUALA LUMPUR - The visit of Saudi Arabia Ruler, King Salman Abdulaziz Al-Saud, to Malaysia from tomorrow will set the pace for stronger bilateral ties, especially in trade and people-to-people links.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Malaysia was honoured that King Salman had chosen Malaysia for his first visit to an Islamic country in the region as well as the first to Southeast Asia since ascending the throne in 2015.
In a Facebook posting on the royal visit, Najib said Malaysia and Saudi Arabia not only shared spiritual ties dating back centuries, but were also bound together by strong trading links and ever increasing people-to-people exchanges.
Najib noted that bilateral trade between Saudi Arabia and Malaysia has been on a strong upward trajectory in recent years, increasing by 27.8 per cent in 2016 to a total of RM13.99 billion (S$442 million).
"Today, Saudi Arabia is one of our largest trading partners.
Najib said Malaysia received a record high of over 100,000 Saudi Arabian visitors last year.
"We are also proud that Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have co-operated so strongly to maintain the well-being of, and provide leadership for the ummah.
"Our strong mutual commitment to fighting extremism is founded on our belief in the tolerant, moderate and peaceful nature of authentic Islam," he added.
During his four-day visit, several new agreements and memorandums of understanding will be signed, including between Saudi Aramco and Petronas, the countries' largest state-owned companies.
Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, at a press conference in Putrajaya, said relations between Malaysia and Saudi Arabia were strong, with close co-operation in areas like politics, economy, defence and haj affairs.
"We foresee greater co-operation in the field of trade, investment, energy, higher education, training and capacity building.
Anifah said Malaysia would also look to attract more tourists from Saudi Arabia.
"Last year, the number of tourists from Saudi Arabia jumped nearly 24 per cent (from the previous year), making the country a primary market of tourism for Malaysia in the Western Asia group," he said.
A state welcoming ceremony will be held at Parliament tomorrow on his arrival, followed by an audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V.
On Monday, there will be a meeting between King Salman and Najib. King Salman will also visit Universiti Malaya and the International Islamic University of Malaysia, where he is expected to be conferred honorary doctorates.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong, who is Ayer Hitam MP, expressed hope that King Salman's visit would see an increase of Malaysia's haj quota.
"His Majesty's visit is all the more meaningful following the decision to reinstate Malaysia's haj quota to 27,900 faithful for this year's pilgrimage season from the 22,300 yearly since 2013," he said.