Xi calls for closer ties with Saudi Arabia

Updated: 2014-03-14 03:06

By Li Xiaokun (China Daily)

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Leader urges stronger cooperation in meeting with crown prince

China and Saudi Arabia — Beijing's biggest foreign source of crude oil — promised on Thursday to forge a stronger relationship and expand their cooperation beyond the traditional field of energy.

"We should keep energy cooperation as a pillar and expand high-tech cooperation in areas like aviation, space and new energy and forge a closer partnership," President Xi Jinping told visiting Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People.

"We have always seen Saudi Arabia as a good friend, brother and partner in the Middle East and the Gulf region," Xi said, adding the two countries should elevate the level of their strategic relations.

He told the crown prince, also Saudi Arabia's first deputy prime minister and defense minister, that China wants to work with Saudi Arabia to push forward negotiations on the free trade agreement between China and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

It has been expected that the prince's visit will help push forward the restart of the negotiations.

The GCC is a political and economic union of six Arab states that border the Gulf — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. All six are major oil exporters.

The FTA negotiations began in 2004 and have produced a number of major agreements. China's trade volume with GCC countries in 2011 surpassed $100 billion for the first time. In 2012, trade exceeded $150 billion.

The president also invited Saudi Arabia to take part in China's proposal to build the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and push forward transportation infrastructure construction linking each other.

On the situation in the Gulf region and the Middle East, Xi said China supports Saudi Arabia's efforts to maintain stability in the country and the region at large. He offered to consolidate communication and cooperation on these issues to jointly promote regional peace.

"Saudi Arabia attaches great importance to China's great impact in the region (the Gulf region and the Middle East) and appreciates the objective and fair stance that China has all along held," the prince said.

He said he expects Beijing to play a constructive role in the early settlement of the Palestine and Syria issues and to push for regional denuclearization.

"My visit at the king's command aims to strengthen strategic relations with China," the prince told Xi.

In the few minutes at the start of their talks when reporters were allowed to stay, Xi said he appreciated Saudi Arabia's generous donations after the May 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, which killed more than 87,000 people in Sichuan province.

Saudi Arabia donated $50 million in cash and $10 million in relief materials. "The Chinese people will not forget it," Xi said.

The prince began his four-day official visit to China on Thursday. Vice-President Li Yuanchao hosted a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People, followed by the meeting with Xi. The president also hosted a banquet in honor of the prince.

According to Al Arabiya News, the prince is likely to meet Premier Li Keqiang and Defense Minister Chang Wanquan for "intensive discussions".

"We in China regard this visit as very important and of high interest for us, as it would boost strategic relations," Chinese Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Li Chengwen told the Saudi-based Arab News.