Saudi King kicks off Asia tour after 50 years

Saudi King kicks off Asia tour after 50 years

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia´s King Salman begins on Sunday a three-week Asian tour likely to seek investment and technical expertise as the world´s biggest oil exporter looks to diversify its economy.

Almost 50 years since the last trip by a Saudi monarch to Japan and Indonesia, Salman will visit those countries as well as Malaysia, China, and the Maldives.

"This visit will be the first time for 46 years, so symbolically it´s very important," Shigeto Kondo, a research fellow at The Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, told AFP.

Salman´s first stop will be close ally Malaysia, which the late king Abdullah visited 11 years ago.

But the Japan and Indonesia visits, where Salman is expected to seek further economic ties with the world´s third largest economy and the most populous Muslim nation respectively, are expected to be the highlights of the trip.

Saudi Arabia last year began a wide-ranging economic and social reform effort to diversify its economy.

Known as Vision 2030, it calls for development of non-oil industries, small and medium enterprises, and a broader investment base, all of which should employ more Saudis.

Tokyo and Riyadh have been discussing how Japan can contribute since Deputy

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited last year.

"So we can expect some sort of framework for cooperation being announced during (the) king´s visit," Kondo said.

As Riyadh tries to develop renewable energy, entertainment, digital and other areas "it expects investment in these sectors from the world´s third largest economy," according to Makio Yamada, a research fellow at Riyadh´s King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies.

He said Japan and Saudi Arabia "have begun to cooperate on the creation of more diverse economic ties between them," while Tokyo seeks energy security from its main oil supplier.

Japanese firms are already helping to train young Saudis in technical skills vital for replacing millions of foreign workers in the kingdom.