New Straits Times
CROWN PRINCE ON MISSION TO WOO ALLIES
Prince Mohammed to highlight reforms he has carried out during meetings with May, Trump
SAUDI Arabia’s crown prince wants to persuade his British and United States allies that “shock” reforms have made his country a better place to invest and a more tolerant society on his first foreign tour as heir apparent.
But it could be a tough sell. Prince Mohammed Salman, who starts talks in London today, has won Western plaudits for seeking to reduce Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil, tackle chronic corruption and transform the deeply conservative, mainly Sunni Muslim kingdom.
But the severity and secrecy of an anti-corruption crackdown last November has unnerved some investors.
Though London and New York are rivals to host the partial public listing of state oil firm Saudi Aramco, the enthusiasm of some Western business leaders — even for such an important contract — has been sapped by concerns about human rights and a lack of limitations on executive power in Saudi Arabia.
“Investors are intrigued by MbS’ (Prince Mohammed’s) reform projects, and there will be a huge amount of interest in hearing his views, but uncertainty lingers,” said Jane Kinninmont, a Middle East expert at Chatham House think-tank.
Rachel Reeves, head of an influential business committee in British Parliament, warned against risking London’s reputation as a finance centre by watering down corporate governance rules to secure the Aramco listing.
Prince Mohammed has defended last November’s crackdown, in which dozens of top business leaders and princes were detained, as necessary to combat “the cancer of corruption”.
Most detainees have now been released, and the authorities say they have arranged to seize more than US$100 billion (RM389 billion) in assets.
The ambitious young prince, just 32, is sure to repeat his message at talks in Britain with Prime Minister Theresa May and when he meets President Donald Trump during a visit to the United States starting March 19.
He will also have a rare audience with Queen Elizabeth and dinner with Prince Charles, the heir to the throne in Britain, after arriving from Egypt.
Any visit to the London Stock Exchange — and later the New York Stock Exchange — will be watched closely by investors because of the potentially lucrative Aramco listing expected later this year.