BEIJING, China Feb 21 (NNN-AGENCIES) – Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman arrived in China on Thursday on the latest stop of a sweep through Asia that aims to expand the kingdom’s influence on the continent.
Prince Mohammad touched down in the morning following earlier visits to India and Pakistan.
He’s due to meet officials including the Chinese president and ruling Communist Party leader, Xi Jinping, on Friday, highlighting Saudi Arabia’s importance as one of China’s top oil suppliers and a market for its exports, including military drones.
Prince Mohammad’s visit to Beijing follows one earlier this week by a high-powered delegation from Saudi Arabia’s chief strategic rival Iran. At a meeting Wednesday, Xi told Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani that “China’s resolve to develop a comprehensive strategic partnership with Iran will remain unchanged,” regardless of the evolving international situation, according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency.
The trip comes five months after the crown prince came under intense pressure following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
At the same time, China is facing growing international criticism over its treatment of its Muslim minority groups. Thus far, Turkey has been the only majority Muslim country to criticize Beijing, with its Foreign Ministry this month calling treatment of minority Uighurs “a great cause of shame for humanity” and saying it is “no longer a secret” that China has arbitrarily detained more than a million Uighurs in “concentration camps.”
Saudi Arabia’s Al Saud royal family has long cast itself as the defender of Muslims across the world. Its king describes himself as the protector of Islam’s two holiest mosques at Medina and Mecca. Observant Muslims pray five times a day in the direction of the cube-shaped Kaaba at the mosque at Mecca.
Commenting Wednesday on the crown prince’s visit, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said recent years have “seen a positive momentum in our cooperation with fruitful outcomes in various areas such as infrastructure and space satellites.”
“We hope that through this visit we will enhance our relations enhance mutual trust, deepen cooperation … and inject momentum into our bilateral relations,” Geng said.
Prince Mohammad is due to visit South Korea after Beijing.
In New Delhi, he offered intelligence sharing and other cooperation with India in fighting extremism and terrorism, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi tackled rising tensions with Pakistan following a suicide bombing last week on Indian paramilitary soldiers in disputed Kashmir.