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Politics

Saudis posting attache in Japan to bolster defense ties

Economic cooperation among the topics during king's trip

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King Salman bin Abdulaziz   © Reuters

CAIRO -- Saudi Arabia is posting a military attache to its embassy in Tokyo to coincide with a visit by King Salman bin Abdulaziz to Japan next week, paving the way for greater cooperation on defense as well as economic development.

The king will visit Japan from Sunday to Wednesday as part of an Asia trip that also includes a stop in China. He will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday. Ministerial meetings exploring economic cooperation in such areas as energy are also being planned.

The Middle Eastern kingdom seeks Japanese cooperation on efforts to overhaul its economy in a way that reduces dependence on oil. For Japan, "the king's visit is directly linked to our national interest in terms of energy and access to Middle Eastern markets," said Hiroshige Seko, minister of economy, trade and industry, to a Foreign Ministry panel on Japan-Middle Eastern economic exchange on Thursday.

The two sides are seen coming to agreements in such areas as the economy and defense. These will include measures to ensure the safety of ocean shipping lanes and to bolster the exchange of information on efforts to combat terrorism linked to Islamic extremism.

Both Saudi Arabia and Japan lean on the U.S., a key ally, for national security. Japan and other Asian economies also rely heavily on Saudi oil, the flow of which is enabled by American military efforts to maintain stability in the Middle East and on sea lanes. Now, President Donald Trump's administration is hinting that U.S. allies could be made to shoulder more of the cost of such defenses.

Japan and Saudi Arabia agreed to explore greater exchange on defense when Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited Japan last August. The appointment of a military attache aims to enhance ties further. A similar attache at the Saudi Embassy in Seoul has traditionally reported to Riyadh on the security situation in East Asia, to Tokyo's concern.

King Salman's visit will be the first by a sitting Saudi king to Japan in 46 years. Up to 1,500 or so people could accompany him.

The U.S.-Saudi alliance has faced strain in recent years, due in part to the leading role played by then-President Barack Obama's administration in forging the nuclear deal with Iran, a rival to the kingdom. Meanwhile, the Trump administration's stance of putting American interests first could entail a greater reluctance to intervene in regional issues -- a prospect that has sparked concern in Riyadh.

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