Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, commonly referred to by his initials, MBS, welcomed Chinese dictator Xi Jinping to Riyadh with a gregarious handshake and lavish ceremony featuring a 21-gun salute, a royal band performance, and jets painting the sky in the colors of the Chinese flag.
Chinese state news outlet Xinhua described the Saudi greeting for Xi as “grand and warm,” detailing an elaborate scene meant to convey the highest honors to Xi, whose country is currently engaging in genocide against multiple Muslim ethnic groups.
Xi is expected to sign deals worth nearly $30 billion during his visit to Saudi Arabia, which will include two international summits – with Gulf nations, then with a larger community of Arab states – and is scheduled to conclude this weekend.
The ostentatious welcome ceremony for Xi stood in stark contrast to the tepid greeting that left-wing American President Joe Biden received from Saudi Arabia during his visit in July. Biden’s choice to visit the country after promising to turn Saudi Arabia into a “pariah” state when running for president baffled many international observers and his prior statements made for uncomfortable exchanges with the crown prince. Biden and MBS notoriously greeted each other with a fist-bump, rather than a handshake, making for an awkward photo that signaled to the world that Biden had abandoned his human rights concerns with the Islamic kingdom.
Xinhua detailed a regal arrival for Xi to Riyadh.
“Xi’s plane was escorted by four fighter jets from the Royal Saudi Air Force after it entered Saudi Arabia’s airspace, and by six Saudi Hawk jets from the royal aerobatic team after it entered Riyadh’s airspace,” the state news agency reported. “Honor guards flanked the purple carpet. Chinese and Saudi national flags fluttered in the wind.”
“He received a grand and warm welcome when the plane arrived at the King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh. A 21-gun salute heralded the arrival. The Saudi Hawks painted the sky in red and yellow, colors of China’s national flag,” the report continued.
Chinese government broadcasters aired footage of the government’s red and yellow flyover and of the Saudi military welcoming Xi:
Upon his arrival, Xi traveled to Riyadh’s al-Yamamah Palace for bilateral talks with King Salman and MBS. The Saudi Foreign Ministry published photos of Xi and MBS shaking hands comfortably:
HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman holds an official reception ceremony for #China‘s President Xi Jinping at Al-Yamamah Palace in #Riyadh.🇸🇳 pic.twitter.com/59ybTMlzXU
— Foreign Ministry 🇸 (@KSAmofaEN) December 8, 2022
The handshake appeared much friendlier than the Biden-MBS fist bump, which reportedly occurred as White House aides attempted to prevent Biden from offering the crown prince a full handshake given Biden’s promises not to normalize the crown prince. Biden had previously personally blamed MBS for the gruesome killing and dismembering of Islamist Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi, whom Saudi agents killed in one of the nation’s consulates, in Istanbul, in 2018. The Saudi government has denied that the prince had any involvement and arrested officers it claimed were directly responsible for the killing:
Fist bump between President Biden and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at Al Salam Royal Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. pic.twitter.com/37Oz5EwwIB
— CSPAN (@cspan) July 15, 2022
Biden’s visit to the Mideast kingdom resulted in no significant agreements or any visible benefit to the United States. Reports citing anonymous sources claimed that Biden had traveled there in an attempt to convince the Saudis to increase oil production, thus potentially lowering prices, but, instead, following the summit, MBS dismissed Biden’s anti-fossil fuel initiatives as “unrealistic.” According to the Wall Street Journal – citing anonymous sources – MBS mocked Biden’s “mental acuity” openly among his officials and decided to cut oil production, rather than increase it, in response to how poorly Biden’s visit went.
On Thursday, the Foreign Ministry published a flurry of other photos of Xi and MBS on social media without any substantive updates on their meeting, simply relaying MBS’s wishes that Xi enjoy “a pleasant stay” in the country and Xi’s gratitude for a “good reception”:
HRH Crown Prince, President of #China held a meeting, at the outset of the meeting, HRH welcomed H.E. to Saudi Arabia, wishing him, and his delegation a pleasant stay, while the President expressed thanks and appreciation for the hospitality, and good reception they received. pic.twitter.com/eyISBmAjSQ
— Foreign Ministry 🇸 (@KSAmofaEN) December 8, 2022
By the evening local time, the Saudi news outlet al-Arabiya reported that the two leaders had signed multiple agreements, “including on hydrogen energy and encouragement of direct investment.”
Al-Arabiya did not specify exactly what was in the agreements, other than a memorandum in which the Saudi government agreed to promote the teaching of “Chinese language,” presumably meaning Mandarin. It noted, however, that the two leaders intended on organizing “a plan to harmonize between the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and China’s Road and Belt Initiative.”
Vision 2030 is the crown prince’s ambitious plan to diversify the Saudi economy to ensure it is not solely reliant on oil, which includes plans to build a “green” megacity in northern Saudi Arabia, known as Neom, and corruption purges to consolidate power. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is China’s global plan to offer predatory loans to poor countries for them to use to buy Chinese construction services, used to build major infrastructure projects they could not otherwise afford. Impoverished countries such as Kenya and Sri Lanka have seen China seize the projects or otherwise erode their sovereignty as a result of their mounting debts.
China has signed BRI deals with 20 Arab countries, Xinhua noted on Thursday.
Absent from the conversation, according to reports on Thursday, is the ongoing genocide of Uyghur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim-majority people under Xi’s Communist Party in East Turkistan. Xi has forced as many as three million people into concentration camps since 2017, forcing them to renounce Islam, eat pork, and undergo a variety of torture. Eyewitnesses say they have been forcibly sterilized, indoctrinated, enslaved, and gang-raped.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s leading Muslim country, as it is home to the two holiest sites in the religion, the cities of Mecca and Medina. The Saudi royal family thus presides over the hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca that is mandatory for those of the faith.
The Saudi government has not condemned the genocide or stood up for the rights of Muslims to practice their faith in China. On the contrary, Saudi officials have arrested protesters denouncing the genocide within their country.
During a visit to China in January, Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud reportedly said he “firmly supports” the genocide, which China claims is a necessary national security operation.
“China is Saudi Arabia’s important strategic and development partner and Saudi Arabia firmly supports the one China Principle, as well as China’s proper position on Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and human rights issues,” Prince Faisal reportedly said. Xinjiang is the Communist Party’s Mandarin-language name for East Turkistan.
On Thursday, a coalition of 52 Uyghur organizations demanded that Saudi Arabia and states participating in the two summits with Xi this week raise the human rights atrocity occurring under his command.
“Those who are meeting Xi Jinping in Saudi Arabia should be aware that they are meeting with the leader of a regime responsible for a genocide against Uyghur muslims,” Dolkun Isa, the head of the World Uyghur Congress, said in a statement on Thursday. “Especially those heads of muslim-majority states must urgently break their silence on the Uyghur genocide. It is their religious responsibility to protect Islamic values.”
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