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Saudi crown prince meets Chinese president, bags oil deal

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (not pictured) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 22, 2019. (Photo by HOW HWEE YOUNG / POOL / AFP)

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Friday with China’s President Xi Jinping and bagged a $10 billion oil deal, pressing on with his diplomatic charm offensive in Asia following a global outcry over the Khashoggi killing.

Mohammed arrived in Beijing on Thursday following visits to Pakistan and India, showing the world that his country still has allies after the grisly murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

He met with Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng earlier on Friday.

“Is the crown prince’s tour symbolic of Saudi Arabia’s pivot to the East? Yes,” Najah al-Otaibi, a senior analyst at the pro-Saudi think-tank Arabia Foundation, told AFP.

“Riyadh wants to strengthen alliances in Asia — especially now with the continuing fallout with the United States over Khashoggi’s murder and other issues and attempts by the EU to put Riyadh on a black list over money laundering allegations,” she said.

Khashoggi, a fierce critic of the prince, was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October, a murder that tarnished the image of the kingdom and of the crown prince in particular.

Riyadh initially denied the murder, then gave several conflicting accounts of Khashoggi’s death, and now claims he was killed in an unauthorised operation that did not involve Mohammed.

The murder sparked global indignation, with US lawmakers pushing for the United States to distance itself from the crown prince, but the White House has maintained close relations with Riyadh, a major Middle East ally.

Separately, the European Commission wants to add Saudi Arabia to a money-laundering blacklist of governments that do too little to thwart the financing of terrorism and organised crime.

But China is looking to strengthen its economic ties with the kingdom, as Beijing pursues its ambitious Belt and Road trade infrastructure initiative, while Riyadh rolls out “Saudi Vision 2030” — the crown prince’s major programme to diversify the national economy away from oil.

During their meeting, Han suggested that the two countries deepen partnerships in energy, infrastructure construction, finance, and high-tech.

Trade and security
Riyadh’s national oil giant Saudi Aramco said it had signed an agreement to form a Saudi-Chinese joint venture — worth more than $10 billion — to develop a refining and petrochemical complex in northeastern Liaoning province.

The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority also announced the signing of 35 non-binding memorandums of understanding, including deals related to energy, mining, transportation and e-commerce.

China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner.

“As the kingdom diversifies its non-oil economy, it needs a variety of other investors with technical expertise, including the Chinese,” Otaibi said.

National security is also a potential area of cooperation between the Gulf state and China.

The two countries should boost partnerships in counterterrorism and law enforcement, and exchange experience on combating extremism, Han said in his meeting with Mohammed, according to Xinhua’s report.

The Saudis said it “firmly supported” Beijing’s efforts to keep the country secure, and opposed “interference by external forces in China’s internal affairs”, said Xinhua, paraphrasing remarks from the crown prince.

Mohammed’s remarks came as Riyadh has remained silent over China’s treatment of Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities in the far-west region of Xinjiang.

Up to one million Uighurs and other minorities are being held in internment camps in Xinjiang as part of a draconian anti-terror and anti-separatist campaign, according to estimates cited by a UN panel.


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