Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Saudi Arabia this week for what Beijing is calling a “milestone” first ever China-Arab summit to boost relations and already deep economic ties.
The visit was announced on Tuesday by the official Saudi Press Agency, which said Mr. Xi, at the invitation of King Salman, would arrive in Riyadh on Wednesday and later this week attend a Saudi-China summit, where Prince Mohammed bin Salman will also be present. Mr. Xi will on Friday attend a summit with leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
This will be Mr. Xi’s second major overseas visit following the start of his third term in October, coming after a trip to Bali and Bangkok for the G20 and APEC summit last month, underlining the growing strategic importance of West Asia for China.
China in 2020 replaced the European Union as the GCC’s largest trading partner with trade reaching $161 billion, said a report this week from the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, which noted that China was involved in “massive infrastructure projects” in the region including the Lusail stadium that is hosting World Cup matches in Qatar and high-speed railway lines in Saudi Arabia, as well as being a major oil importer.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry as of Tuesday evening had not confirmed Mr. Xi’s visit, with the government currently marking a mourning period for the passing of former leader Jiang Zemin. The Chinese Foreign Ministry earlier described the December 9 summit as “a milestone event” in a newly released report on China-Arab states cooperation.
“At the moment, amid the profound changes unseen in a century, China and Arab states face similar opportunities and challenges,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said. “China has all along viewed Arab states as strategic partners in our pursuit of peaceful development….We will continue working with Arab states to carry forward our traditional friendship, deepen cooperation in all areas, step up exchanges between our respective civilisations, and build a China-Arab states community with a shared future in the new era.”
The first China-Arab states summit was “a strategic choice by both sides”, Wang Guangda of the China-Arab Research Centre on Reform and Development in Shanghai wrote in the Party-run Global Times on Tuesday.
“China and Arab countries are reliable partners who treat each other equally. In their long-term interactions with the Western countries, Arab countries have become tired of the condescending arrogance of the West,” he said. “China respects the development path chosen independently by the people of other countries, and is a reliable partner that will not impose its own values on others.”