Bruce Riedel, brookings.edu [Original article contains inks.]
Saudi Arabia has sent both its king and his foreign minister on important foreign trips recently, as a key part of a significant diplomatic offensive to improve its strategic relations.
King Salman’s month-long trip to Asia, which began Sunday, is the most visible part of the offensive. He is traveling with a 600-strong entourage to Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, China, Japan, and the Maldives before attending the Arab League summit in Jordan at the end of March. It will be the first visit by a Saudi king to Indonesia since King Faysal in the 1970s and the first ever by a Saudi King to Japan.
Saudi royals often take long excursions outside the kingdom. Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, for example, spent over a month in Algeria just a year ago. But those trips are private and involve little public diplomacy. King Salman is traveling with a much more public role. His entourage will actually grow on the trip to over 1,500.
An unspoken goal of such a lengthy trip is to demonstrate the king’s vitality and resilience. Salman turned 81 on December 31. Rumors about his health are endemic, especially about his mental acuity. A vigorous agenda will test him, so the court has included lengthy stops along the trip to provide plenty of time for rest. ...