The King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud arrived in Beijing Wednesday for a state visit which will last until Saturday, a trip experts said signals Saudi Arabia's determination to treat China as a reliable and strong partner at a time Saudi-US ties are experiencing difficulties.
The king's massive delegation is comprised of about 1,500 people including 25 princes and 10 ministers. "This visit is not a normal diplomatic event but a strategic diplomatic move connected with Saudi Arabia's future, Hua Liming, former Chinese ambassador to Iran and the UAE, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Before arriving in China, King an's delegation has been to Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan. They will land in the Maldives after finishing the China tour.
The key mission of the king's visit to China is to establish a linkage between the "Saudi Vision 2030" strategy and China's One Belt and One Road initiative, said Liu Zhongmin, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University.
Chinese President Xi Jinpingin 2013 proposed the initiative aimed at building a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Roadtrade routes.
"Saudi Arabia wants to reduce its reliability on oil production, boost industrialization and improve its infrastructure, which are the key components of 'Saudi Vision 2030,' while China has outstanding capability in infrastructure construction," Hua said, so the foundation of Sino-Saudi cooperation is solid and reliable.
Saudi Ambassador to China Turki Bin Mohamed Al-Mady said Saudi Arabia attaches great importance to China's Belt and Road initiative, reported the Xinhua News Agency.
"The king's visit shows that China and Saudi Arabia enjoy a close relationship and share broad common interests," the ambassador said.
He revealed that during the king's visit, the two sides will discuss enhancing cooperation in such areas as culture, economy, trade, technology, security and defense. They are expected to sign several agreements and memoranda on education, investment, transfer of technology, industry and trade.
According to the Chinese foreign ministry, Saudi Arabia remains China's leading supplier of crude oil and the largest trading partner in West Asia. China is the largest trading partner of Saudi Arabia. Military cooperation between the two countries has also moved forward steadily.
The king's trip to Asia, especially to China and Japan has another motive - to tell the US that Saudi Arabia can forge new, strong partnerships in Asia, Hua said.
Due to the US shale gas revolution, energy cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the US is shrinking, Hua said, therefore, Saudi Arabia needs to strengthen its ties with China and Japan, the two biggest oil customers of Saudi Arabia.
"Apart from energy cooperation, infrastructure and investment are also important for Riyadh, and both China and Japan are good in this area," said Yin Gang, a researcher at the Institute of West Asian and African Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "Compared to the US, the EU and Russia, China has an advantage as it has no enemies in the region," Yin stressed.
Saudi Arabia is providing opportunity to both China and Japan at the same time, and it would like to see competition between China and Japan since it can benefit from it, so for China, the opportunity also carries challenges, Yin said.
Riyadh can get more bargaining chips vis-à-vis the US by strengthening ties with China, but it will still maintain its security cooperation with the US, and Washington also needs it so as to play a significant role in the region," Liu said.
Hua said China could also be a mediator to bridge the conflict between Saudi Arabia and its regional rival Iran.
China hopes Saudi Arabia and Iran can resolve their problems through equal and friendly consultations, said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a press conference during this year's two sessions.
"China is a friend with both Saudi Arabia and Iran. If there is a need, China is willing to play our necessary role," the foreign minister said.