PARIS, France – Chinese leader Xi Jinping met on Thursday with Saudi Arabia’s king and crown prince while on a visit to the kingdom, solidifying ties with a region crucial to his country’s energy supplies as sanctions intensify on Russian over its war on Ukraine.
Xi arrived at Al Yamama Palace in Riyadh and was greeted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, King Salman’s assertive son who stands ready to rule the oil-rich kingdom in the decades to come. Si shock hands with the prince as an honor guard on horseback carried Saudi and Chinese flags.
It wasn’t immediately clear what Zi focused on in his discussions, though he wrote in a newspaper column published by Al Riyadh newspaper that ”exchanges between China and Arab state date back more than 2,000 years”. The column also quoted a saying by Islam’s Prophet Muhammad: ”Seek knowledge even if you have to go as far as China”.
”The Arab people value independence, oppose external interference, stand up to power politics and high-handedness, and always seek to make progress”, Xi’s column read.
He also noted that the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, which include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, serve as ”an energy tank for the world economy”. China, the world’s largest crude oil importer, relies heavily on Saudi Oil, Paying tens of billions of dollars annually to the kingdom.
Saudi state media released a silent video of Xi and Prince Mohammed meeting at the palace, with a large picture of King Salman hanging in the background. In another video Xi later talked with the 86-year-old monarch and signed documents alongside him. Many of the Saudi officials wore facemasks in the meeting.
Gulf Arab states are trying to recalibrate their foreign policy as the United States turns its attention elsewhere in the world.
Beyond China’s oil purchases, its construction expertise could be tapped as well for prince Mohammed’s planned $500 billion futuristic city of NEOM on the Red Sea. Chinese construction firms have worked elsewhere in Arab countries in the Persian Gulf, particularly in Dubai in the UAE.
The trip to Saudi Arabia marks a further move by Xi to restore his global profile after spending most of the pandemic inside China. The visit is his third overseas trip since early 2020. It also comes as Xi, who was granted a third five-year term as leader in October, has faced street protests over his zero-COVID-19 policies that represent the most – significant challenge to his rule.
During the visit, Xi is expected to attend the inaugural China – Arab States Summit and a meeting of the GCC.