KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim arrived on Wednesday on his first visit to Saudi Arabia, as Kuala Lumpur seeks closer ties with Riyadh.
Anwar began his trip with a stop in Jeddah, where he and members of his delegation, including first lady Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Foreign Minister Zambry Abd Kadir and Communications Minister Fahmi Fadzil performed Umrah.
In Riyadh, the Malaysian premier is scheduled to meet King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the three-day visit, which is also his first outside Southeast Asia since taking office in November.
Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the trip “reflects the special bond and long-standing relationship with the Kingdom and will provide an excellent opportunity for both sides to elevate bilateral relations and cooperation.”
As he reached the Kingdom, Anwar took to Twitter to say that the visit will hopefully “strengthen the relationship between the two countries” and “give an opportunity for both countries to discuss existing issues and cooperation as well as explore various new forms of cooperation.”
Saudi Arabia is Malaysia’s largest trading partner in the Middle East, with total trade valued at more than $10 billion in 2022, and Malaysian officials have been expressing intentions to strengthen ties and explore new areas of cooperation with Saudi Arabia.
The two countries last month agreed to finalize discussions on forming the Saudi Arabia-Malaysia Coordination Council.
With Anwar’s visit, Kuala Lumpur is likely seeking to become involved in the developments taking place in Saudi Arabia, said Shahriman Lockman, a director at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies in Kuala Lumpur.
“Anwar also probably believes that Malaysia should be plugged into the economic and social transformations that are taking place in Saudi Arabia,” Lockman told Arab News.
“Saudi Arabia obviously plays an indispensable role in the Muslim world, especially in relation to the annual Hajj. Unsurprisingly, the Malay-Muslim majority in Malaysia expects their prime ministers to maintain a stable relationship with Saudi Arabia.”
James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore, highlighted how Anwar has fostered good ties with Saudi Arabia throughout his three-decade-long political career.
“Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have an interesting and smooth relationship,” he told Arab News. “Anwar has always had close relations with Saudi Arabia.”