Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman touched down in Beijing Thursday to begin the last leg of his Asia tour, designed to build relations and clinch deals as the kingdom faces a diplomatic chill in the West.
Bin Salman had already visited India and Pakistan during his week-long trip, announcing new investments in energy and infrastructure, before arriving in China – Saudi Arabia’s biggest trading partner.
The Saudi prince is due to meet with Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng on Friday morning, before sitting down with President Xi Jinping in the afternoon.
It is almost two years since his father, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, met with Xi during a tour of the region in March 2017. At the time, both sides agreed to “step up cooperation in all areas,” according to state media Xinhua.
Since then there has been a stark shift in Saudi Arabia’s international standing.
The crown prince has struggled to rehabilitate his international reputation following the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year. The crown prince has denied any connection to the killing.
The killing has soured the kingdom’s reputation in the West, forcing Saudi to turn elsewhere for a friendlier business environment.
At the G20 in Argentina late last year, when most leaders shunned Bin Salman in the wake of the Khashoggi murder, Xi was one of the few leaders to be photographed warmly engaging with the Saudi prince.
Close trading partner
Both countries are seeking support from the other for their leadership’s signature policy initiatives.
Saudi Arabia has previously expressed a keen interest in taking part in Xi’s massive Belt and Road infrastructure plan, which seeks to build roads, railways and ports connecting China to the world.
Under Beijing’s maritime “road,” huge amounts of Chinese trade will pass through the Red Sea, which borders Saudi Arabia, on its way to Europe.
Analysts said the kingdom is hoping China, meanwhile, will be an important part of Bin Salman’s Saudi Vision 2030 project, a broad economic plan designed to wean his country off its “addiction” to oil revenues.
Euromonitor International senior analyst Rabia Yasmeen said Bin Salman’s Asia visit was important to the success of the Vision 2030 plan.
“The visit is expected to bring more fruitful results on the economic front with regards to China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative and how the Saudi government can leverage the initiative for its Saudi Vision 2030,” she said.
In an interview with Xinhua, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources, Khalid bin Abdulaziz Al-Falih, said Saudi investment in China was “just starting.”
“Our culture is very compatible with the Chinese culture. We have sent hundreds of our students to study in China, and when they came back speaking Chinese, it makes thousands of Saudi people understand how great China is and how wonderful the Chinese people are. We need more of that,” he said. “There will be great prosperity for both countries.”
CNN’s Yong Xiong contributed to this article.