Saudi crown prince to visit Japan

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Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will visit Japan from May 20 to 23 when he will meet the emperor and the prime minister, Tokyo said Friday.

Saudi Arabia is a major oil supplier to Japan and its sovereign wealth fund owns a stake in gaming giant Nintendo as part of a major push into the sector.

The visit to Japan by Saudi Arabia’s de-facto leader, known by his initials MBS, will be his first since 2019.

He will have an audience and “court luncheon” with Emperor Naruhito and will hold talks with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the government said.

Kishida plans to discuss bilateral cooperation and a “broad range” of areas affecting the Middle East and the international community, government spokesman Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters, without giving further details.

Prince Mohammed is said to be an avid gamer partial to “Call of Duty”, and Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in the sector since the 38-year-old became first in line to the throne in 2017.

In 2022, the crown prince announced a $38-billion investment strategy for the kingdom’s Savvy Games Group, owned by the deep-pocketed sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF).

PIF in 2023 became the largest outside shareholder of Nintendo with a stake of 8.6 percent, according to a filing last June.

It has reportedly also bought stakes in “Call of Duty” maker Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts and “Street Fighter” maker Capcom.

Saudi Arabia aims to organise an eSports World Cup starting this year as part of a push to become the “premier global hub” for the industry that includes homegrown studios making games.

The kingdom is also planning a theme park based on Japan’s “Dragon Ball” manga franchise with at least 30 rides and a 70-metre (230-foot) model dragon.

The plans form part of Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 programme to diversify Saudi Arabia economically away from oil and improve its image.

Campaigners say the push belies a dire human rights record where Saudi dissidents are imprisoned and executions are common.

Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in 2018 after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain travel documents.

More than 90 percent of resource-poor Japan’s oil imports come from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

Japanese energy firms are also keen to invest in hydrogen and ammonia production projects in the Gulf, with a view to using these gases as fuel to reduce Japan’s carbon emissions.

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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