King Salman of Saudi Arabia arrives in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 2017.
Beawiharta / REUTERS

There are many reasons for Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, a reluctant traveler abroad at the best of times, to be undertaking his ambitious month-long journey to the Asia-Pacific region. China and Japan are critical economic partners that Saudi Arabia needs to fulfill its ambitious Vision 2030 program of economic and social reform. Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Maldives are all majority-Sunni states and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which is headquartered in Jeddah and led by Saudi Arabia. As such, they are vital to Saudi efforts to construct a united Sunni front to challenge Iran’s ambitions to amass power in the Islamic world.

But there can also be no doubt that the not-too-subtle subtext of the king’s tour is a signal that Saudi Arabia will preserve its flexibility when it comes to its dealings with the United States. Riyadh’s reaction to Donald Trump’s

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