Chinese President Xi Jinping wrapped up the first day of his Middle East tour Tuesday with extensive consensus with Saudi and regional leaders headlined by an upgrade of China-Saudi Arabia relations.[Special coverage]
This is the first state visit by a Chinese president to Saudi Arabia in seven years. Later in his first overseas trip this year, which lasts from Jan. 19 to 23, Xi will also travel to Egypt and Iran, as the world's second-largest economy seeks closer ties with the region.
"Since China and Saudi Arabia forged diplomatic ties 26 years ago, our relationship has developed by leaps and bounds, with mutual political trust deepening continuously and rich results in cooperation in various fields," Xi said in written remarks upon arrival.
Saudi Arabia sent four fighter jets to escort Xi's plane when it entered the country's airspace. The president was received by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the airport.
Chinese national flags were seen fluttering in central Riyadh for the visit, to which the local Arab News daily devoted a 10-page special supplement.
"I believe that my visit will be a friendly trip with fruitful achievements, thus conducive to lifting our cooperation in various fields to a new level and to elevating the collective cooperation between China and GCC (the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf) nations," Xi said.
Saudi Arabia is China's biggest foreign supplier of crude oil and biggest trading partner in West Asia. In 2013, China became the biggest trading partner of Saudi Arabia.
Two-way trade reached 69.1 billion U.S. dollars in 2014, growing by 230 times over that of 1990, when the two countries established diplomatic ties.
Xi and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud held talks on Tuesday afternoon and decided to lift bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership.
The two sides also signed a memorandum of understanding on industrial capacity cooperation, agreeing to pursue cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative, a vision Xi put forward in 2013 to boost interconnectivity and common development along the ancient land and maritime Silk Roads.
The two countries also signed a slew of cooperation deals covering such sectors as energy, communications, environment, culture, aerospace, and science and technology.
"I believe it will deepen the mutual strategic trust, lead to greater achievements in our mutually beneficial cooperation, and help facilitate and broaden our shared interests in international and regional affairs," Xi said on the upgrade of bilateral ties.
The two countries, in a joint statement, made clear their common stances on such regional affairs as Palestine, Syria, Yemen, counterterrorism and the building of a nuclear weapons-free Middle East.
Xi's tight schedule on the first day also included separate meetings with the deputy crown prince and the chiefs of the GCC and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
The Chinese president called for joint efforts to broaden cooperation, establish a China-GCC free trade area at an early date, and promote dialogue between Chinese and Islamic civilizations.
Hailing Xi's visit as "historic," the Arab News daily commented Tuesday that it will further boost the partnership between the two major countries on the economic and political fronts.
"About 2,000 years ago, the Silk Road linked Saudi Arabia and China together. ... Today, the development of Sino-Saudi relations faces a new historic opportunity, and the prospect of the two countries' cooperation in various fields is more promising than ever before," said the newspaper.