Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping with a lavish reception in the capital Riyadh on Thursday, as the two countries head for a number of summits heralding an “epoch-making milestone” in China’s relations with the Arab world.
Saudi state TV showed a grand ceremony laid out for the Chinese leader, as bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler known as MBS, received him at Al-Yamamah Palace. Chinese and Saudi Arabian flags dotted the premises as members of the Saudi Royal Guard lined up with swords and played music.
The two leaders smiled warmly and looked on for photographs, a contrast to the atmosphere of US President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia earlier in the year.
Shortly afterwards, China and Saudi Arabia signed a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement that includes a number of deals and memoranda of understanding, including on hydrogen energy, on coordination between the kingdom’s Vision 2030 and China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and with regards to direct investment, reported the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA), without providing details.
Xi landed in the capital Riyadh on Wednesday, where he was received by Saudi Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Riyadh Region, and Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah, Minister of Foreign Affairs. Saudi military jets accompanied the Chinese president’s aircraft, a purple carpet was rolled out upon his arrival and canons were fired.
US President Joe Biden’s welcome is widely perceived to have been less glamorous. The American president was received in July by the governor of Mecca and the Saudi ambassador to the US in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah. Biden met MBS in Jeddah, where they exchanged a fist-bump that made global headlines and defined what ultimately became a frigid visit.
Saudi and Chinese state media have this week been keen to promote the close ties shared by their governments. Saudi state TV replayed clips of past meetings between Chinese and Saudi officials, narrating the two countries’ warm relationship, which they say spans more than eight decades.
In a signed article published Thursday in the Saudi newspaper Al Riyadh, Xi said that his visit to the kingdom this week “will usher in a new era in China’s relations with the Arab world, with Arab states of the Gulf and with Saudi Arabia.”
“The Arab world is an important member of the developing world and a key force for upholding international fairness and justice,” Xi wrote, adding that “the Arab people value independence, oppose external interference, stand up to power politics and high-handedness, and always seek to make progress.”
In the article titled “Carrying Forward Our Millenia-old Friendship and Jointly Creating a Better Future,” Xi said that China and Arab states will “continue to hold high the banner of non-interference in internal affairs, firmly support each other in safeguarding sovereignty and territorial integrity, and jointly uphold international fairness and justice,” in a nod to US diplomacy, whose ties with the Saudis have crumbled over OPEC’s decision to slash crude oil supply.
Saudi Arabia’s energy minister also stressed that Saudi-Chinese relations are “witnessing a qualitative leap” and that the kingdom “will remain China’s credible and reliable partner” with regards to oil, SPA reported.
The Chinese foreign ministry said Wednesday that the China-Arab States Summit “will be an epoch-making milestone in the history of China-Arab relations,” and that “President Xi’s state visit to Saudi Arabia will elevate the China-Saudi Arabia comprehensive strategic partnership to a new height.”
On Wednesday, Saudi and Chinese companies signed 34 investment deals covering several sectors, reported SPA, including in the fields of green energy, information technology, cloud services, transportation, logistics, medical industries, housing and construction.
No monetary value was announced for the deals, but SPA previously reported that the two countries are expected to sign deals worth more than $29 billion during this week’s visit.
Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia comes amid frayed ties between the two countries and Washington, which harbors a number of grievances towards the two states over oil production, human rights and other issues.
While China and Saudi Arabia’s friendship has blossomed over the decades, they seem to have become closer as both find themselves in precarious positions in regard to the US.
The White House said it was “not a surprise” that Xi is traveling around the world and to the Middle East. “We’re mindful of the influence that China is trying to grow around the world,” said John Kirby, the strategic communications coordinator at the US National Security Council.
CNN’s Martin Goillandeau and Sophie Jeong contributed to this report.