Chinese President Xi Jinping held a welcoming ceremony for King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Thursday. The two heads of state oversaw the signing of deals worth potentially 65 billion US dollars.
At the invitation of Xi, King Salman is paying a state visit to China from March 15 to 18. The visit comes after Xi’s state visit to Saudi Arabia in January 2016, when the two countries established a comprehensive strategic partnership, “injecting new impetus into the China-Saudi Arabia relations in the new era,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a press conference on Monday.
Yang Jiechi (R), state councilor of China, welcomes Saudi King Salman (L) at Beijing International Airport on March 15, 2017. /CFP Photo
The two countries established diplomatic ties in 1990. China became Saudi Arabia's largest trading partner in 2015, while the kingdom has been China's biggest crude oil supplier in the Middle East for years. Last year, China imported 51 million tons of oil from Saudi Arabia.
However, oil prices have been fluctuating in recent years, from over 100 US dollars a barrel to below 30 US dollars, dealing a big blow to Saudi Arabia’s oil-based economy. Prices have however recovered slightly in recent months, with Brent futures at 52.15 US dollars, and WTI on 49.15 US dollars, both as of Thursday morning. As its latest quarterly GDP growth dropped to 0.9 percent, the lowest since 2013, the country intends to seek opportunities from the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative.
Oil prices have been in fluctuations in recent years. /CGTN Screenshot
“The visit of King Salman to China will boost cooperation on development strategies and will deepen joint collaboration within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.
The foreign minister indicated that the value of trade between the two countries amounted to 42.36 billion US dollars in 2016, which led Saudi Arabia to become China’s biggest commercial partner among countries in West Asia and Africa.
“As China implements its 13th Five-Year Plan and Saudi Arabia has formulated its Vision 2030 and National Transformation Plan 2020, the two sides are natural and ideal partners in building the Belt and Road together,” Wang stressed in the written interview.
Saudi Arabia's economy has suffered from falling oil prices. /CGTN Screenshot
King Salman is the first foreign head of state that China has welcomed since the end of its Two Sessions – the Fifth Session of the 12th National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Fifth Session of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), with Salman the first Saudi king to visit China in 11 years.
During the visit, the leaders of the two countries will exchange views on bilateral relations and other issues of common interest, and oversee the signing of a number of cooperative documents on capacity, trade, aerospace, new energy and education, Wang said.
He believes the visit will send a positive signal to Middle Eastern countries, with China and Saudi Arabia set to deepen strategic cooperation and make joint efforts to promote regional peace and build a community of shared future for mankind.
Saudi King Salman eyes boosting trade ties with world's second largest economy.
The 81-year-old Saudi king, who succeeded his half-brother Abdullah as the seventh king of the kingdom in January 2015, led a massive delegation of 1,500 people, including 25 princes and 10 ministers.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and NPC Standing Committee Chairman Zhang Dejiang will also meet with the Saudi king.