Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping touched down Riyadh on Wednesday to cement “milestone” relations between the two nations, after Saudi leaders snubbed U.S. President Joe Biden in a similar state visit in July.
Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) is expected to offer Xi a lavish welcome ahead of a series of bilateral talks, where the two are expected to deepen ties and ink billions in economic agreements, according to Reuters. The Saudis have painted the meeting as a repudiation of foreign attempts to meddle in Riyadh’s internal politics, a possible allusion to Biden’s repeated characterization of the kingdom as a “pariah” and human rights offender.
The meeting represents an “an epoch-making milestone in the history of the development of China-Arab relations,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said Wednesday.
Xi and Saudi rulers will hold a first-ever joint China-Arab States Summit t0 “strengthen solidarity and coordination,” Ning added.
The meeting follows a terse encounter between Biden and MBS in July which culminated in a failed U.S. effort to persuade Saudi Arabia to increase oil output at an upcoming OPEC+ meeting ahead of the November midterm elections, after which the White House said it is “re-evaluating” its relationship with the oil-rich kingdom.
Saudi Arabia maintains that it evaluates relationships on the basis of the advantages it can provide to the kingdom, according to The Wall Street Journal. However, its deepening military and economic cooperation with China has unsettled Washington, used to relying on Saudi Arabia as a reliable energy producer and source of stability in the Middle East.
“We are mindful of the influence that China is trying to grow around the world,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said on Wednesday, Reuters reported.
Upon the invitation of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques @KingSalman, H.E the President of the People’s Republic of China arrives in Riyadh on an official visit to the Kingdom.
— Foreign Ministry (@KSAmofaEN) December 7, 2022
China is Saudi Arabia’s biggest trading partner and produces 18% of Beijing’s total oil imports, still the China’s largest energy supplier even as the effect of Europe’s oil price cap on Russian crude, also a major supplier for China, remains uncertain, according to the Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman pledged to ensure Saudi Arabia proves a “trusted and reliable” partner to China on energy, Reuters reported. The two countries are expected to agree to roughly $29 billion in mutual investment, including a Chinese factory hub in the kingdom.
“Beijing does not burden its partners with demands or political expectations and refrains from interfering in their internal affairs,” Saudi columnist Abdulrahman Al-Rashed wrote in Asharq Al-Awsat, according to Reuters.
The visit also comes as tensions between the U.S. and China reach their highest levels in decades. The Pentagon identifies China as the largest “pacing” challenge facing the U.S. military, and China’s saber-rattling in the Indo-pacific, predatory trade practices and human rights violations on a massive scale have further soured relations with the U.S.