Japan to help Saudi Arabia move away from economic dependence on oil

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, left, is escorted by Shinzo Abe, Japan's Prime Minister, as they arrive for a banquet at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo.
PHOTO: Reuters

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's pledge to fully support Saudi Arabia's efforts to end its dependence on oil illustrates Japan's policy of attaching great importance to maintaining stability in the Middle East to ensure a stable supply of energy resources from the region.

Japan's support for Saudi Arabia was expressed in a meeting with King Salman bin Abdulaziz on Monday, underscoring the fact that Japan regards Saudi Arabia, a major power in the Middle East, as the key to maintaining stability in the region.

"Japan-Saudi Vision 2030," the document for co-operation released by Abe and the king after the meeting, includes expanded co-operation with Saudi Arabia in a wide range of fields, such as infrastructure investment, Japanese companies advancing into Saudi Arabia and cultural exchanges.

"We would like to more aggressively develop relations with Saudi Arabia, the cornerstone of stability in the Middle East," Abe stressed during the meeting.

King Salman expressed his approval of the document, saying that it would reinforce the strategic partnership of the two nations.

Specific projects on which the two countries plan to work together include the following: establishing a joint research group to consider listing Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, demonstration testing of desalination by Japan's New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation and a Saudi public corporation and holding a "Japanese culture week" in the Saudi capital of Riyadh in April.

The Japanese government aims to contribute to the political and economic stability of Saudi Arabia by supporting the Arab nation's efforts to free itself from dependence on oil. Tokyo regards the king's visit as a golden opportunity as Saudi Arabia has begun to move away from its foreign policy of being totally committed to the United States, after bilateral ties deteriorated under the administration of former US President Barack Obama.

However, Japan is not the only target of Saudi Arabia's new approach. King Salman will next visit China during his tour of Asia. "Saudi Arabia is aiming to obtain aid both from Japan and China by hedging between the two countries," a diplomatic source said.

Friction with Iran The Japanese government is putting weight on relations with Saudi Arabia, which regards itself the leader of Sunni nations (Sunnis regard themselves as the orthodox branch of Islam), to seek stability in the entire Middle East region.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia broke off relations with Iran, a Shiite (adherent of the Shia branch of Islam) powerhouse, in January 2016, and the confrontation between the two has become a cause for instability in the Middle East.

During Monday's meeting, Abe urged King Salman to ease the tension, saying, "Dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran is indispensable for the stability of the region."

As Japan has friendly ties with Iran, the Japanese government envisages strengthening ties with both Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, the administration of US President Donald Trump is criticising the nuclear deal concluded with Iran under the initiative of Obama's administration, thereby worsening US-Iran relations.

As a result, it has become difficult for Japan to expand its co-operation with Iran. Japan will have to keep a close eye on US moves for the time being.

Saudi King Salman visits Malaysia on Asian tour

  • Malaysia welcomed Saudi Arabia's King Salman on Sunday (Feb 26) for the start of a rare, month-long Asian tour.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • King Salman was then 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.
  • 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.
  • Malaysia's Petronas and Saudi Aramco will sign an agreement on Tuesday to collaborate in Malaysia's Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (RAPID) project.
  • 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 Najib.
  • 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.
  • 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.