Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
At the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud started his state visit to China on Wednesday. This is his first official trip to Beijing since he was crowned in 2015 and an important stop in his month-long Asia tour. China and Saudi Arabia have always maintained frequent top-level exchanges throughout their diplomatic relations. The cooperation between "Saudi Vision 2030" and China's "One Belt, One Road" initiative is highly anticipated.
Salman, then crown prince, first deputy prime minister and minister of defense of Saudi Arabia, was deployed by late king Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to pay a special visit to China to strengthen Riyadh's strategic relations with Beijing in March 2014. China welcomed Saudi Arabia to the Belt and Road initiative, and was willing to work together with Riyadh to facilitate the negotiations on China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Free Trade Agreement and combat terrorism.
Saudi Arabia was the first stop on President Xi's Middle East tour in 2016. During his stay in Riyadh, Xi and Salman agreed to lift the bilateral ties to comprehensive strategic partnership.
Saudi Arabia voiced support for China's Belt and Road initiative and was willing to deepen cooperation with China in trade, investment, energy, education, technology, information security and other areas.
Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince, Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman attended the G20 summit last year in Hangzhou, China and presented "Saudi Vision 2030," which he drafted. The China-Saudi Arabia high-level joint committee held its inaugural meeting last August, and a number of cooperative agreements on politics, energy, finance, investment, accommodation, water resources, quality control, technology, people-to-people exchanges have been signed between Beijing and Riyadh. This deepens the cooperation between "Saudi Vision 2030" and the Belt and Road initiative.
"Saudi Vision 2030," with economic structural reforms and diversified development as its goals, was put forward as a method to cope with the challenges posed by low oil prices. With the lifted sanctions on Iran, increased oil yields and US shale oil production reaching a new high, the international oil price has plummeted, and Saudi Arabia, relying heavily on oil production, has seen a sharp fall in revenue.
During the Hangzhou G20 summit, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir claimed that China, as an economic power, is able to play an important role in "Saudi Vision 2030." As the largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, with its significant strategic position and status in the Islamic world, will contribute to the construction of the Belt and Road initiative. Riyadh looks forward to more diversified economic cooperation and more frequent cultural exchanges with Beijing.
Given its core Islamic values, Saudi Arabia plays a vital role in politics, economy, religion and security affairs in the Middle East and among Islamic countries. China is the key focus of Salman's Asia tour. The trip is the first between top leaders of both countries since President Xi's Middle East visit, and represents Saudi Arabia's positive attitude toward China's Belt and Road initiative. The two sides are very likely to sign more agreements and projects on the cooperation between "Saudi Vision 2030" and the Belt and Road initiative.
In addition, as US President Donald Trump's Middle East policy is still unclear, Salman puts Beijing ahead of Washington in his diplomatic visits. This reflects Riyadh's tendency to "Look East." The country is willing to develop a friendly relationship with Beijing on the premise that its ties with Washington remain intact. Saudi Arabia wants China's support in regional and international affairs.
Moreover, Riyadh put forward "Saudi Vision 2030" and carried out drastic economic structural reforms last year to cope with low oil prices and its heavy dependence on oil production. The cooperation with Indonesia and Maldives is also the focus of attention in Salman's Asia tour. Protection of offshore oil transport routes, Aramco's share sale, the "Saudi-Japan Vision 2030" cooperative plan, invitation of Japanese investments to Saudi Arabia's special economic zones are also at the top of the agenda on this trip.
Saudi Arabia expects the visit to warm up Beijing-Riyadh comprehensive strategic partnership, expand its oil export to China and consolidate its dominant status in China's oil import market.
The author is a post-doctorate at the Institute of International Studies, Fudan University. firstname.lastname@example.org Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion