Why King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud upcoming visit to China is important to Beijing ... and a worry for Washington

Monarch could be on quest to expand kingdom’s revenue sources, analyst says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 March, 2017, 8:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 March, 2017, 10:23am

Oil and Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” trade initiative are expected to head the agenda when the king of Saudi Arabia stops in China as part of his Asian tour.

The trip by King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud comes amid uncertainty in the kingdom’s ties with Washington, and Beijing’s push to strengthen its presence in the Middle East.

Dates for the trip have yet to be announced, but diplomatic ­observers said the king’s agenda would probably include oil ­exports to China – the world’s ­second-biggest buyer of the fuel– infrastructure projects for Beijing’s trade initiative linking Asia, Africa and Europe.

The 81-year-old king embarked on his Asia-Pacific trip late last month and is travelling with 25 princes and 10 ministers. After stops in Malaysia and Indonesia, he is taking a break in Bali.

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His 1,500-member delegation and 459 tonnes of luggage will go on to Brunei, Japan, China, the Maldives and Jordan.

The itinerary of his stay in China has not been announced. An official from the Saudi Arabian embassy in Beijing said on Monday the king would visit China, but the date had not been set.

Saudi Arabia’s alliance with the US has been overshadowed by issues such as the Iran nuclear deal, the war in Syria and Islamic extremism. US President Donald Trump’s policy on the region is also unclear.

China has boosted ties with the kingdom, with President Xi Jinping visiting Riyadh early last year before going to Tehran. Security ties between the two nations have also strengthened, with Saudi Arabia buying Chinese military technology and a Chinese naval fleet visiting the port of ­Jeddah in January.

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Xiao Xian, a Middle East affairs specialist at Yunnan University, said cooperation on security issues, such as counterterrorism and arms sales, would likely be on the king’s agenda.

Wang Jian, from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Saudi Arabia was China’s diplomatic priority in the Middle East.

Guo Xiangang, a researcher at the China Institute of International Studies, said the king could also be looking for opportunities from the belt and road initiative.

The Saudi government has launched a national transformation programme to develop ­private sectors, create jobs and ­diversify the country’s revenue sources. “Saudi Arabia wants to reduce its reliance on oil, and improve its infrastructure and China is more than very willing to provide help in this area,” Guo said