On February 22, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. For MBS, it was the last stop on a broader tour of the region, which also include visits to Pakistan and India.
This meeting came at a time when both China and Saudi Arabia are under increasingly harsh criticism — particularly on the issue of human rights — from the West and thus are eager to find political support as well as business opportunities from new partners.
On China’s part, the West has been strongly demanding that Beijing stop its crackdown on the Muslim minority in Xinjiang in recent months. But Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, has remained quiet on the issue.
On Saudi Arabia’s part, the horrible killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Consulate General in Istanbul has deeply shattered the reputation of Saudi Arabia as well as MBS himself worldwide. However, China’s reaction to this scandal was quite moderate. At a regular press conference on October 25, 2018, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying defined the case as “a tragic incident.”
“We hope that this case can be dealt with properly. We will continue to follow it,” Hua added.
In comparison to the wave of rebukes from the West, China’s remarks must have sounded very soft, even welcome, to MBS.
Against that backdrop, the Saudi crown prince’s latest visit to China was indeed a “win-win” for both nations.
According to Chinese state news agency Xinhua, Xi told MBS during the meeting that “China regards Saudi Arabia as a good friend and partner” and that China is ready to “open up a new horizon for bilateral friendship and strategic relationship.”
Noting that the relationship between two nations has “advanced in an all-around way, at multiple levels and in a wide variety of fields,” Xi said that both nations should expand cooperation on energy, infrastructure, trade, investment, and high value-added industries.
“The two sides should promote counterterrorism cooperation in the Middle East, strengthen international de-extremism cooperation and prevent the spread and infiltration of extremism,” Xi added.
During the meeting, MBS also referred to China as “an important strategic partner.”
Most importantly, MBS defended China’s counterterrorism measures, implicitly justifying the controversial Xinjiang policy. According to Xinhua, MBS said:
Saudi Arabia firmly adheres to the one-China policy. We respect and support China’s rights to take counterterrorism and de-extremism measures to safeguard national security. We stand ready to strengthen cooperation with China.
In addition, one day before the meeting between Xi and MBS, Saudi Arabia signed 35 economic cooperation agreements with China worth a total of $28 billion at an investment forum, according to Saudi state news agency SPA.