Friday , February 3 2023

Xi meets MBS ahead of summit with Arab leaders

08-12-2022

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has received China’s President Xi Jinping in Riyadh as part of a visit expected to bolster political and economic ties.

Xi was greeted by MBS on Thursday at Yamamah Palace, where the de facto ruler of the world’s biggest oil exporter is expected to sign around $30bn in agreements, according to Saudi state media.

The two leaders stood side-by-side as a brass band played their national anthems, then chatted as they walked into the palace, which is the king’s official residence and seat of the royal court.

After Xi’s arrival on Wednesday, with formation jets flying overhead, Saudi state media announced 34 investment agreements in sectors including green hydrogen, information technology, transport and construction.

The official Saudi Press Agency did not provide details but said two-way trade totaled 304 billion Saudi riyals ($80bn) in 2021 and 103 billion Saudi riyals ($27bn) in the third quarter of 2022.

State broadcaster Al Ekhbariya said another 20 agreements worth 110 billion riyals ($29.3bn) were due to be signed on Thursday.

Arab leaders also began to converge on the Saudi capital ahead of a summit with Xi, who will hold separate talks with the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) before leaving on Friday.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Tunisian President Kais Saied, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Sudan’s de facto leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan were all flying in on Thursday.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch and Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati have also confirmed their attendance.

Growing Chinese influence

China’s foreign ministry this week described Xi’s trip just his third journey overseas since the COVID pandemic as the “largest-scale diplomatic activity between China and the Arab world” since the People’s Republic of China was founded.

China, the top consumer of Saudi oil, is seeking to shore up its COVID-hit economy and strengthen its ties with a region that has long relied on the United States for military protection.

The Saudis are pushing to diversify their economic and political alliances at a time when ties with their long-term US allies appear roiled by disagreements on energy policy, US security guarantees and human rights.

Xi’s visit follows US President Joe Biden’s trip in July when he greeted MBS with a fist-bump at the start of a failed attempt to convince the Saudis to raise oil production.

The Saudi crown prince sees China as a critical partner in his sweeping Vision 2030 agenda and is seeking the involvement of Chinese firms in ambitious mega-projects meant to diversify the economy away from fossil fuels.

Key projects include the futuristic $500bn megacity Neom.

Saudi investment minister Khalid Al-Falih told Saudi state media this week’s visit “will contribute to raising the pace of economic and investment cooperation between the two countries”, offering Chinese companies and investors “rewarding returns”. (Int’l Monitoring Desk)

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