Skip to main content

China's Xi, Saudi royals ink deals during high-stakes visit

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping in Riyadh
— Riyadh (AFP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Saudi Arabia's powerful crown prince met Thursday on an Arab outreach visit that has earned a rebuke from Washington, reaching deals in areas including energy and infrastructure.

Agreements worth about $30 billion were to be signed, Saudi state media said, as China seeks to shore up its Covid-hit economy and as the Saudis, long-term US allies, push to diversify their economic and political alliances.

Xi and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 37-year-old de facto ruler of the world's biggest oil exporter, met at Yamamah Palace in Riyadh, flanked by high-ranking officials wearing face masks, footage aired on state television showed.

They oversaw the signing of energy agreements on hydrogen as well as a plan to "harmonise" Saudi Arabia's ambitious economic reform agenda, Vision 2030, with China's trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, the official Saudi Press Agency said.

Xi and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 37-year-old de facto ruler of the world's biggest oil exporter, met at Yamamah Palace in Riyadh

The signed deals also covered a petrochemicals project, housing development and the teaching of the Chinese language, SPA said, though it did not detail their substance or monetary value.

Earlier, state television showed Xi being greeted by Prince Mohammed before the two men stood side-by-side as a brass band played their countries' national anthems.

They then chatted while walking into the palace, which is the king's official residence and seat of the royal court.

Xi also met with Prince Mohammed's father, 86-year-old King Salman, signing a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement first reached during Xi's last visit in 2016, state media reported.

They "agreed to hold a heads of state meeting between the two countries in turn every two years", Chinese state media said.

"I am very pleased to visit Saudi Arabia again after six years. I still remember the scenes from my last visit," Xi said in remarks carried by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

"The Chinese side views the Saudi side as an important force in a multipolar world and attaches high importance to developing a comprehensive strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia."

He said Beijing was ready to expand its crude oil trade with Riyadh and would "list Saudi Arabia as a destination country for outbound tourism organised by Chinese citizens".

- 'Raising pace' of cooperation -

China and Saudi Arabia trade profiles

Upon his arrival on Wednesday, Xi said bilateral ties with Saudi Arabia had grown "by leaps and bounds" in recent years.

This "has not only enriched both countries' peoples but promoted regional peace, security, prosperity and development," Xi said, according to CCTV.

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

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

Saudi investment minister Khalid al-Falih said 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", according to SPA.

Earlier on Thursday, Saudi state media announced 34 investment agreements in sectors including green hydrogen, information technology, transport and construction.

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

- Arab outreach -

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, on the left, is welcomed by Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Governor of Riyadh Province, in the capital

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

China, the top consumer of Saudi oil, has been strengthening ties with a region that has long relied on the United States for military protection but which has voiced concerns the American presence could be downgraded.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Sudan's de facto leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan had all arrived by Thursday afternoon, according to the Saudi foreign ministry.

China, the top consumer of Saudi oil, has been strengthening its trade and political ties with a region that has long relied on the United States for military protection

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Tunisian President Kais Saied, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch and Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati have also confirmed their attendance.

Beijing's foreign ministry this week described Xi's trip as the "largest-scale diplomatic activity between China and the Arab world" since the People's Republic of China was founded.

It has not escaped the attention of the White House, which warned of "the influence that China is trying to grow around the world", calling its objectives "not conducive to preserving the international rules based order".

Washington has long been a close partner of Riyadh, but the relationship is currently roiled by disagreements on energy policy, US security guarantees and human rights.

Xi is making his third journey overseas since the Covid pandemic prompted China to shut its borders and embark on a series of lockdowns, putting the brakes on its giant economy.

His visit follows US President Joe Biden's trip in July, when he greeted Prince Mohammed with a fist-bump at the start of a vain attempt to convince the Saudis to raise oil production.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Free

The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.

Free

What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing
Expert

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to pro.support@al-monitor.com and we'll onboard your team.

What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

Already a Member? Sign in

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial