Chinese president arrives in Saudi Arabia on Mideast tour

AP News
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Posted: Jan 19, 2016 3:02 PM

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping has arrived in Saudi Arabia for a two-day visit as part of a Middle East tour that will include stops in Egypt and Iran.

Saudi state television reported that King Salman and President Xi held talks on Tuesday afternoon. Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman greeted the Chinese delegation on their arrival.

China and Saudi Arabia signed 14 memoranda of understanding to enhance cooperation, research, investment and development in the fields of trade, satellite navigation technology, renewable energy and oil. Two Saudi loans for Chinese environmental projects were agreed on, but the size of these loans was not discosed.

In an official readout of their meeting, Saudi Arabia said that King Salman had decorated the Chinese president with the country's most prestigious medal, named after the country's founder, King Abdelaziz.

During his two-day visit, Xi will also be holding talks with the chiefs of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation while in the kingdom.

Economic ties between Saudi Arabia and China are central to their bilateral relationship. Saudi Arabia is China's biggest supplier of crude oil, accounting for one in six barrels of China's crude oil imports, the Xinhua news agency reported. China is Saudi Arabia's second largest trade partner, with two-way trade reaching $69 billion in 2014.

Xi last visited Saudi Arabia in 2008 while vice president, and the Saudi monarch visited Beijing in 2014 when he was still crown prince.

A day before his arrival, the Chinese leader published an article in the Saudi newspaper Al-Riyadh describing the kingdom as "a brotherly state" and saying he looks forward to elevating Chinese-Saudi bilateral relations.

He noted that following the 2008 earthquake that hit China's Sichuan Province, Saudi Arabia provided more than $60 million in assistance, the greatest assistance package ever received by the Chinese government.

After his visit to Saudi Arabia, Xi will travel to Egypt where he will meet with President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi and deliver a speech at the Cairo headquarters of the Arab League on China's policies in the Middle East.

In Iran, Xi will meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as Tehran looks to attract foreign investment following the lifting of nuclear sanctions.

Xi's visit to Riyadh is the latest in a flurry of diplomatic meetings in Saudi Arabia this week, including visits by Pakistan's prime minister on Monday, France's foreign minister Tuesday and the U.S. Secretary of State Saturday.

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Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.