Indonesia, Saudi Arabia sign deals as Saudi King Salman starts landmark visit

Saudi Arabia's King Salman walks with Indonesia President Joko Widodo as he arrives at Halim Perdanakusuma airport in Jakarta, Indonesia on March 1, 2017.
Saudi Arabia's King Salman walks with Indonesia President Joko Widodo as he arrives at Halim Perdanakusuma airport in Jakarta, Indonesia on March 1, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

BOGOR, Indonesia (AFP) – Indonesia and Saudi Arabia on Wednesday (March 1) signed agreements in areas ranging from trade to aviation as the kingdom’s monarch visited the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country for the first time in almost half a century.

King Salman was treated to an elaborate official welcome as he arrived in Jakarta, his latest stop on an Asian tour seeking investment opportunities, at the head of a 1,000-strong delegation including princes and ministers.

After disembarking from his plane, he was met by President Joko Widodo before travelling past cheering crowds in pouring rain to a presidential palace at Bogor, south of Jakarta, where he was greeted by a marching band, a mounted honour guard and a 21-gun salute.

Almost 460 tons of equipment have been flown in for the visit, including limousines and escalators.

Preparations have been elaborate. Naked statues at the Bogor palace were covered up before King Salman’s arrival. Some 150 chefs have reportedly been hired to cook for the king’s party and a VIP toilet has been constructed at a mosque he will visit.

Joko hailed the “historic” visit, adding: “As the country with the biggest Muslim population in the world, Indonesia will always have a special bond with Saudi Arabia.”

The leaders oversaw the signing of 11 cooperation memoranda following Wednesday’s talks at the Bogor palace. Apart from trade and aviation, they included agreements on boosting cooperation in science, health and fighting crime.

Jakarta and Riyadh also inked an agreement that builds on an existing US$6 billion (S$8.5 billion) deal between state-owned energy firms Aramco and Pertamina to expand an Indonesian oil refinery.

King Salman, 81, said he hoped the visit would “contribute to the improvement of the bilateral relationship between our two countries”.

The visit – the first by a Saudi Arabian king to Indonesia for 47 years – is one of the highlights of a rare Saudi royal tour of Asia, a region seeking investment as the world’s biggest oil exporter tries to diversify its economy.

After the three-day visit to Jakarta, King Salman and his entourage will head to the Hindu-majority resort island of Bali for a holiday, where they will reportedly stay in five luxury hotels.

On Thursday, the king is due to give a speech to parliament and visit a major Jakarta mosque. He is also due to meet leaders of some of Indonesia’s major Muslim organisations during the trip.

King Salman began his three-week Asian tour in Malaysia earlier this week and is also set to visit Japan, China and the Maldives.