Saudi king visits Japan, seeks help in diversifying economy

Japan and Saudi Arabia agreed Monday to explore ways to bolster Japanese investment and trade in the Middle Eastern nation, possibly by setting up special economic zones there.

King Salman and about a thousand businesspeople from Saudi Arabia are in Japan for talks this week focusing on the economy, as the country seeks a less oil-dependent growth strategy.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Salman that Japan wants to "vigorously advance its ties with Saudi Arabia, which is the linchpin of stability in the Middle East."

The visit is the first by a Saudi king in 46 years, though Salman visited more recently as crown prince.

The two leaders agreed to promote Japanese investment, research and manufacturing, possibly through special economic zones. They also agreed to seek a possible share listing of Saudi Aramco, the state-run oil company that is being partially privatized, on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The two countries also will cooperate in promoting renewable energy as well as seawater desalination by Japanese companies.

Salman met with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida earlier Monday.

Separately, Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund and Japanese telecoms provider Softbank have joined forces in setting up a $25 billion private fund for technology investments.

Saudi Arabia is one of Japan's biggest suppliers of crude oil, accounting for about a third of its imports of oil from the Middle East.

Trade between the countries fell last year as oil prices dropped. Japanese imports from Saudi Arabia totaled 2.1 trillion yen ($18.6 billion) in 2016, mostly oil and gas, compared to exports of 546.3 billion yen ($4.8 billion).

The delegation arrived late Sunday on about 10 aircraft.

Salman, 81, is on a monthlong tour of Asia to advance his kingdom's economic and business interests. His stop in Japan followed visits to Indonesia and Malaysia. He is to travel on to Brunei, China and the Maldives.

Salman pledged $1 billion in development finance for Indonesia and closer cooperation in combating transnational crime such as human trafficking, terrorism and the drug trade.


Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report.