KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia welcomed Saudi Arabia's King Salman yesterday on the start of a rare, month-long Asian tour, where the monarch will build ties and seek to draw more investments to the oil-rich Gulf nation.
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 next year, expected to be the world's biggest initial public offering.
Malaysian state television yesterday showed live footage of the octogenarian king descending from his plane on an escalator flown in with his delegation. He was received by Prime Minister Najib Razak before being 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 "to meet with the leaders of those countries to discuss bilateral relations and regional and international issues of common concern", a royal court statement carried on Saudi Arabia's state media SPA reported.
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.
State oil firm Petroliam Nasional (Petronas) and Saudi Aramco will sign an agreement tomorrow to collaborate in Malaysia's Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (Rapid) project in southern Johor, a boost for the South-east Asian economy.
Relations between the two countries have been in the spotlight for the last two years after Saudi Arabia was dragged into a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal at Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), founded by Datuk Seri Najib. Mr Najib has denied any wrongdoing in the case which is now being investigated by several countries, including the US, Switzerland and Singapore. A Malaysian government inquiry found that nearly US$700 million (S$983 million) transferred to the Prime Minister's bank account in 2013 was a donation from the Saudi royal family and most of it was returned.
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.
After Malaysia, the King is expected to travel to Jakarta and Bali in Indonesia from March 1 to 9 with an even larger entourage of 1,500 people, followed by a trip to Japan from March 12 to 14, officials in those countries said.
King Salman is expected to spend the last two weeks of March on holiday in the Maldives. Local newspaper Mihaaru reported that three resorts have been reserved for his stay.