Saudi king starts landmark visit to Indonesia; announces huge investments

 01 Mar 2017 - 18:21

Saudi king starts landmark visit to Indonesia; announces huge investments
The Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz, left, shakes hands with Indonesian President Joko Widodo during their meeting at the presidential palace in Bogor, West Java, Indonesia, Wednesday, March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Achmad Ibrahim/Pool

By Niniek Karmini and Stephen Wright / AP

BOGOR, Indonesia: Saudi Arabia pledged $1 billion in development finance for Indonesia and expanded cooperation in other areas, deepening ties with Southeast Asia's biggest economy as the Custodian of The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia and a huge entourage arrived Wednesday for a 9-day visit.

Enthusiastic crowds lined the route of King Salman's heavily guarded motorcade as it arrived in Bogor, near the capital Jakarta, where official events were held at an imposing presidential palace.

He was earlier welcomed at Jakarta's Halim airport by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and the minority Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama.

At a joint news conference, the countries' foreign ministers affirmed Saudi Aramco and Indonesian oil company Pertamina's plans for a $6 billion refinery joint venture in Cilacap in central Java. The two countries also signed 11 agreements that included a Saudi commitment to provide $1 billion of financing for economic development and cooperation to combat transnational crime such as people smuggling, terrorism and drug trafficking.

King Salman is on a tour of Asian countries to advance the kingdom's economic and business interests. On his first stop in Malaysia, Saudi Aramco signed a $7 billion deal to take a 50 percent stake in a Malaysian oil refinery. King Salman will also visit Brunei, Japan, China and the Maldives, the official Saudi Press Agency has reported.

The first visit of a Saudi monarch to Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, in nearly a half century generated blanket media coverage.

Live broadcasts showed the octogenarian King Salman exiting his plane at Halim using a gold-colored escalator sent from Saudi Arabia for the visit, with a portable lift carrying him the final meter or so to the ground.

King Salman will spend six of his nine days in Indonesia vacationing on the resort island of Bali.

"As the world's biggest Muslim nation, Indonesia will always have a special bond with Saudi Arabia," said Jokowi. "Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are two big countries that have important influence in the region, and our countries should continue to improve cooperation both in bilateral and international contexts."

Jokowi said he appreciated that Indonesia's hajj quota, which was reduced in the aftermath of the 2015 hajj disasters, had been restored and expanded for 2017 with 221,000 pilgrims allowed from Indonesia.

The Indonesian government said King Salman's entourage and related delegations number about 1,500 people. They have booked out four hotels in a posh Jakarta neighborhood for the week and about 10,000 police and soldiers have been deployed for security, including for King Salman's Bali trip.

Statues of naked men and women at the Bogor palace were removed or covered out of courtesy to the Saudi visitors. The same step was taken when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Indonesia in January.

Indonesia has said it hopes for $25 billion of new investments from Saudi Arabia. The two leaders discussed possibilities including three oil refineries, a power plant and infrastructure such as roads, housing and sanitation.

Aside from the two countries having a common faith, Saudi Arabia employs hundreds of thousands of Indonesians despite a government ban on sending domestic workers there following the execution of an Indonesian maid in 2011.