Next stop on Saudi crown prince’s image makeover tour: China

Next stop on Saudi crown prince’s image makeover tour: China

February 21, 2019

Delhi: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is set to arrive in China on Thursday in the middle of a multi-country swing through Asia designed to polish his image abroad as ties with western leaders remain strained.

The visit will include a meeting with President Xi Jinping and high-level meetings aimed at boosting relations after the nations agreed to promote a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2016. He's expected to visit South Korea after that in the final leg of a tour that has already stopped in India and Pakistan. The Indonesian and Malaysian legs of the trip were postponed.

Porcelain plates featuring portraits of former Chinese leader Zhou Enlai, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping are displayed in a shop window in Beijing.Credit:Bloomberg

China overtook the US as the kingdom's biggest trading partner in 2013. The world's most populous nation accounted for about 15 per cent of all Saudi imports and exports last year compared with 8 per cent a decade earlier, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Saudi ties with Asian countries have transformed over the past decade as they displaced the US as the kingdom's main oil buyers. Now they are strengthening further as western powers have distanced themselves from the prince after the killing of critic Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post journalist, in October.

The prince received a lavish welcome on his first two stops in India and Pakistan, both of which required delicate handling. India has accused Pakistan’s main spy agency of backing a deadly suicide car bombing that killed 40 members of the security forces this month in the disputed region of Kashmir, which both the nuclear powers claim in full.

Pakistani PM Imran Khan, left, drives Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on SundayCredit:AP

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan personally drove the prince to his official residence in a break from protocol.

Mohammed vowed to invest $US20 billion ($27.9 billion) in Pakistan – half of it for an oil refinery in the coastal city of Gwadar, where China has built a deepwater port. That amount would dwarf the roughly $US53 million Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistan in the last three years, raising questions about whether it would be implemented.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is hugged enthusiastically by Indian PM Narendra Modi at the airport in Delhi.Credit:AP

In a stop in Delhi on Wednesday, the prince vowed to fight terrorism alongside India after talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who embraced him upon arrival.

"Terrorism is a common concern and Saudi Arabia will cooperate with India in fighting it, including in matters like intelligence sharing," Mohammed said in a press conference alongside Modi.

Modi said India and Saudi Arabia had agreed to pressure countries aiding terrorism and work toward destroying terrorist infrastructure. India accuses Pakistan of aiding the bombing last week.

The Saudi leader said he saw $US100 billion worth of potential investments in India but did not give any details.

In a joint statement issued in Islamabad earlier this week, Saudi Arabia "underlined the need for avoiding politicisation" of the United Nations listing regime – a veiled reference to India's efforts to have Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar, who lives in Pakistan, designated as a global terrorist. China has blocked this motion at the UN. THe terror group claimed responsibility for the attack in Kashmir.

Mohammed Bin Salman, left, reacts as he is greeted by Ram Nath Kovind, India’s president, centre, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the presidential palace in Delhi.Credit:Bloomberg

However, Modi did not seem particularly put out. He travelled to the airport and hugged Mohammed after the royal descended from the steps of his aircraft.

A lawmaker from India's main opposition Congress party criticised Modi's "hugplomacy" because of the prince's investment pledges in Pakistan and praise for Islamabad's anti-terrorism activities.


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