Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received President Xi Jinping on Thursday as the Chinese leader heralded “a new era” in Arab relations, with a lavish welcome signalling Riyadh’s interest in deepening ties with Beijing despite US wariness.
Members of the Saudi Royal Guard riding Arabian horses and carrying Chinese and Saudi flags escorted Xi’s car as it entered the royal palace in Riyadh, where Prince Mohammed, de facto ruler of the oil giant, greeted him with a warm smile.
The two leaders held an official meeting with the crown prince “wishing him, and his delegation a pleasant stay” in Saudi Arabia, Saudi state news SPA reported.
It stood in stark contrast to the low-key welcome extended in July to US President Joe Biden, with whom ties have been strained by Saudi energy policy and the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi that had overshadowed the awkward visit.
The US, warily watching China’s growing sway and with its ties to Riyadh at a nadir, said on Wednesday the visit was an example of Chinese attempts to exert influence around the world and would not change US policy towards West Asia.
Prince Mohammed, with whom Biden bumped fists instead of shaking hands in July, has made a comeback on the world stage following the Khashoggi killing, which cast a pall over Saudi-US ties, and has been defiant in the face of US ire over oil supplies and pressure from Washington to help isolate Russia.
Setting the tone for Xi’s visit, his plane was escorted by Saudi air force jets as it entered Saudi airspace and a 21-gun salute was fired as senior Saudi royals met him at the airport on Wednesday, the Chinese foreign ministry said.
In an op-ed published in Saudi media, Xi said he was on a “pioneering trip” to “open a new era of China’s relations with the Arab world, the Arab countries of the Gulf, and Saudi Arabia”.
China and Arab countries would “continue to hold high the banner of non-interference in internal affairs, firmly support each other in safeguarding sovereignty and territorial integrity”, he wrote.
Xi said these states were a “treasure trove of energy for the world economy”.