When Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia visited Georgetown in September 2015, the Four Seasons hotel did some serious redecorating. As we reported at the time, eyewitnesses at the luxury hotel had seen crates of gilded furniture and accessories being wheeled into the posh hotel over the past several days, culminating in a home-away-from-home fit for the billionaire Saudi monarch, who was in Washington then for his first White House meeting with President Barack Obama.
“Everything is gold,” said one Four Seasons regular. “Gold mirrors, gold end tables, gold lamps, even gold hat racks.” Red carpets were been laid down in hallways and even in the lower parking garage, so the king and his family never have to touch asphalt when departing their custom Mercedes caravan
The guests staying at the 222-room hotel for the next couple of days are all part of the 79-year-old king’s entourage of Saudi diplomats, family members and assistants, one source said; a full buyout of the entire property was reserved for the visit. Guests who had booked to stay at the Four Seasons during the royal visit have apparently been moved to other luxury hotels in town. A call to the Four Seasons confirmed the hotel is sold out Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Fast forward to this week, when the same King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud landed in Japan, leading to largely to the same reaction, namely people stunned at the size of his delegation and his 500 tons of luggage. The king made quite an entrance, descending from his plane on one of his two golden escalators. The four-day visit, which began Sunday, is part of the Saudi royal’s month-long Asia trip, as the kingdom looks to diversify its economy from oil dependency. Saudi Arabia is Japan’s largest oil supplier.
The king’s delegation arrived in Japan on 10 aircraft and according to the Japanese press, an entourage so large even Japanese government officials didn’t have an accurate number of how many people to expect. In preparation for the royal visit, 1,200 rooms in Tokyo’s best hotels were booked for the delegation.
King Salman appears to have upped his game since visiting the US and, most recently, Indonesia, where he brought two limousines with him. In Japan, an entire fleet of up to 500 limousines were sourced from around the country according to RT. “Maintenance costs for luxury models are high and there is little constant demand for such vehicles,” a limousine industry insider told Asahi Shimbun. “Because we are unable to secure the needed number only in Tokyo, we are gathering the vehicles from Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures as well as the Tokai region.”
While he was in Indonesia, the king also had a special toilet built for him inside a mosque, and another inside the House of Representatives.
On Monday, King Salman met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. King Salman visited the country as a prince in 2014, but this is the first Saudi Arabian king to visit in 46 years. Salman told Abe that the Middle East is facing diplomatic issues involving the Palestinians, Japan Times reported, and cited humanitarian crises in Yemen and Syria. A Saudi-led coalition has been bombing Yemen for almost two years. “Unfortunately, those crises are now giving negative impacts to the region,” the king said.
The Saudi royal’s trip caused many on social media to react in anger, comparing the king’s lavish travel to the situation in war-torn Yemen.
But perhaps the most important part of King Salman’s trip has yet to come: his visit to China. As the SCMP reported in “Why King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud upcoming visit to China is important to Beijing … and a worry for Washington“, the trip by King Salman comes amid uncertainty in the kingdom’s ties with Washington, and Beijing’s push to strengthen its presence in the Middle East.
Oil and Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” trade initiative are expected to head the agenda when the king of Saudi Arabia stops in China as part of his Asian tour.
Dates for the trip have yet to be announced, but diplomatic observers said the king’s agenda would probably include oil exports to China – the world’s second-biggest buyer of the fuel– infrastructure projects for Beijing’s trade initiative linking Asia, Africa and Europe.
The 81-year-old king embarked on his Asia-Pacific trip late last month and is travelling with 25 princes and 10 ministers. After stops in Malaysia and Indonesia, he is taking a break in Bali.
His 1,500-member delegation and 459 tonnes of luggage will go on to Brunei, Japan, China, the Maldives and Jordan.
Saudi Arabia’s alliance with the US has been overshadowed by issues such as the Iran nuclear deal, the war in Syria and Islamic extremism. US President Donald Trump’s policy on the region is also unclear.
China has boosted ties with the kingdom, with President Xi Jinping visiting Riyadh early last year before going to Tehran. Security ties between the two nations have also strengthened, with Saudi Arabia buying Chinese military technology and a Chinese naval fleet visiting the port of Jeddah in January.
In other words, if the Saudis want to pivot from the US and toward China, King Salman’s visit to Beijing will be the perfect opportunity.
Or maybe not, because while the king is courting Asian leaders, his son, Deputy Crown Prince, and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman are currently in the US meeting with President Trump, and as the WSJ reports, “seeking to reset ties as Trump meets the prince.”