Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1990, the China and Saudi Arabia relations have seen sustained and rapid development. The bilateral relations have been elevated to the comprehensive strategic partnership, said Chinese Ambassador Li Huaxin while stressing the significance of the bilateral relations in an interview with Saudi Gazette.
“At present, in the face of profound changes in the world’s political and economic structure, the strategic and comprehensive nature of the relations between China and Saudi Arabia has become more prominent. Both sides support the establishment of a new type of international relations centering on win-win cooperation and both adhere to the principle of non-interference in internal affairs. Both sides call for guiding economic globalization to develop towards a more inclusive, mutually beneficial and fair direction.”
The Chinese envoy spoke on a wide range of issues, including the harmony and integration between the Chinese vision ‘Belt & Road Initiative’ and Saudi Vision 2030, while stressing the willingness to support Saudi Arabia to realize ‘Vision 2030’ and to be the worldwide cooperation partner for the diversification of Saudi Arabia’s economy. Here are the excerpts:
Saudi Gazette: Saudi-Chinese relations started in 1990. Despite the short period of relations, the Saudi-Chinese ties have seen a great and rapid development towards further cooperation and mutual understanding at all Levels. Mr. Ambassador, how would you describe these relations? And what are the most important stages of the relations? And what do you think is the reason behind this convergence between the two sides?
LH: Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1990, the relations between China and Saudi Arabia have seen sustained and rapid development. The bilateral relations have been elevated to the comprehensive strategic partnership. With the political mutual trust between the two sides increasingly strengthened, the two sides supported each other on issues involving each side’s core interests and major concerns. The deepening of practical cooperation has taken the bilateral cooperation to the forefront of China’s cooperation with other Middle Eastern countries in many areas. At present, in the face of profound changes in the world's political and economic structure, the strategic and comprehensive nature of the relations between China and Saudi Arabia has become more prominent. Both sides support the establishment of a new type of international relations centering on win-win cooperation and both adhere to the principle of non-interference in internal affairs. Both sides call for guiding economic globalization to develop towards a more inclusive, mutually beneficial and fair direction, advocate that a country's transformation and upgrading could be accelerated through the development of connectivity and international capacity cooperation, and commit to resolving global and regional hot issues through negotiation and dialogue.
The development of the relations between China and Saudi Arabia is inseparable from the support and guidance of the leaders of the two states. In January 2016, President Xi Jinping visited Saudi Arabia and the two countries established a comprehensive strategic partnership and decided to establish a High-Level Joint Committee of China and Saudi Arabia to push bilateral relations into a new stage of rapid development. In August, then Crown Prince Muhammad visited China and held the first meeting of China-Saudi Arabia "High-Level Committee" and attended the G20 Hangzhou Summit. In March 2017, King Salman visited China, which further promoted the alignment of development strategies of the two countries and deepened the practical cooperation under the “Belt and Road” framework. In August, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of China visited Saudi Arabia and held the second meeting of “High-Level Committee” with Crown Prince Muhammad, which have brought the practical cooperation in various fields to a new Level. The leaders of the two states have established close working relationships and profound personal friendship. With the top leaders’ concerns and promotion as well as the joint efforts of various departments of both states, the bilateral relations have continuously moving forward.
SG: Let’s have a little talk about the recent visits of the Chinese president to Saudi Arabia in January 2016, and the Saudi king to the People’s Republic of China in March 2017. There was a warm welcome on both sides. The Chinese president’s visit saw the transformation of the relations from strategic cooperation to comprehensive strategic partnership. The Saudi King’s visit saw the activation of this partnership through signing cooperation agreements worth $65 billion between the two states. Mr. Ambassador, how do you see these visits and their reflections on the relations between the two sides?
LH: In January 2016, President Xi Jinping made a historic visit to Saudi Arabia, which was the first stop of his visit that year and also the first Middle East country President Xi visited after he was elected the president. During the visit, the two heads of state announced the establishment of a comprehensive strategic partnership and decided to establish a High-Level Committee between China and Saudi Arabia, which charted the course for the bilateral relations in the future and led bilateral practical cooperation to a higher level. In March 2017, King Salman paid a state visit to China, a visit again after 11 years since his last visit to China as well as his third visit to China. His visit was of great significance to enhance friendship between the leaders of the two countries, consolidate strategic trust between China and Saudi Arabia and promote practical cooperation in various fields. During this visit, the leaders of the two countries witnessed the signing of a series of cooperation documents in many fields, including capacity, trade, space, new energy and education, and the two sides also jointly organized a series of cultural and economic activities. The new round of interaction between the highest leaders of the two countries opened a new era of comprehensive and rapid development of China-Saudi Arabia relations, and also sent a positive signal to the international community that the two sides would strengthen strategic cooperation, deepen the alignment of development, promote regional peace and build a community with a shared future for mankind.
SG: Trade is the most important aspect of our relations; would you tell us about the volume of the Chinese-Saudi trade cooperation in numbers?
LH: Since 2013, China has been Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner, and Saudi Arabia has been China's largest trading partner in Western Asia and Africa. From 2000 to 2015, Saudi Arabia was the largest crude oil supplier to China. In 2017, the total amount of trade between China and Saudi Arabia reached $49.984 billion, with a year-on-year increase of 22%, of which China exported $18.20 billion to Saudi Arabia and imported $31.7 billion. In 2017, China imported 5,218.12 tons of crude oil from Saudi Arabia, up by 2.31% compared to the previous year, accounting for 12.44% of China's total crude oil imports, with a value of $205.11 billion, a year-on-year growth of 31.74%. In 2017, China invested $88.79 million in Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia invested $150 million in China.
SG: In light of the current economic trend, the People’s Republic of China is keen to implement the ‘Belt & Road Initiative’, while Saudi Arabia is eager to implement the Saudi ‘Vision 2030’. In general, how does China perceive the Saudi ‘Vision 2030’? Is there a possibility of harmony and integration between the two visions with respect to increasing cooperation in energy, finance, production capacity, and infrastructure?
LH: ‘Vision 2030’ is the guiding principle for Saudi Arabia to push forward the economic transition and comprehensive development, which focuses on the non-oil economy to improve the vitality of economic development. Since the inauguration of Saudi ‘Vision 2030’, Saudi Arabia has made new achievements in reform and development across many fields, which China appreciates. China is willing to support Saudi Arabia to realize ‘Vision 2030’ and to be the worldwide cooperation partner for the diversification of Saudi Arabia’s economy. China also appreciates Saudi Arabia’s active participation in the construction of the ‘Belt & Road Initiative’, and welcomes Saudi Arabia to be the worldwide cooperation partner in the co-construction of the ‘Belt & Road Initiative’. During President Xi Jinping’s visit to Saudi Arabia in January 2016, the two countries signed the cooperation agreement to construct the ‘Belt & Road Initiative’ together. Both sides are making decision to sign an implementation plan to integrate ‘Vision 2030’ and the ‘Belt & Road Initiative’ and both sides agreed to build a series of package deal cooperation mechanisms in the energy field. At present, Saudi Arabia has been striving to develop its industry and push forward the industry development in nuclear energy, renewable energy, science and technologies and investment to build Saudi Arabia into a regional trade and logistics center. China is competitive and experienced in many fields in which Saudi Arabia is interested. Both sides have complementary advantages and huge potential in cooperation. It is believed that the cooperation between China and Saudi Arabia will stride to a new stage with more vitality，more sustainability and more results. The achievements of integrating the ‘Belt & Road Initiative’ and ‘Vision 2030’ will benefit both countries and lead the regional cooperation.
SG: On Aug. 30, 2016, Chinese-Saudi High-Level Joint Committee was founded and headed by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman and Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli. The committee held its first meeting in China where 17 agreements and memorandums of understanding were signed in economic, trade, and development programs. How would you evaluate this committee? And how do you think this committee will push the comprehensive strategic partnership forward?
LH: In January 2016 the two heads of state decided to establish China-Saudi Arabia High-Level Joint Committee. Since then the Committee has held two meetings respectively in Beijing, China and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The mission of the Committee is to implement the important consensus reached by the two heads of state, to coordinate and promote cooperation in various fields for both sides. In August 2016，the first meeting of the Committee was held in Beijing, during which Zhang Gaoli and Prince Muhammad signed an agreement on forming Chinese-Saudi High-Level Joint Committee between the government of the People’s Republic of China and the government of Saudi Arabia and a minutes of Chinese-Saudi High-Level Joint Committee's first session between China and Saudi Arabia, and witnessed the signing of bilateral cooperation documents in politics, energy, finance, investment, real estate, water resource, quality testing, science and technologies and cultural exchanges. In August 2017, the second meeting of the Committee was held in Jeddah. Both parties agreed that the first Committee has achieved remarkable results, in which the key projects were advanced smoothly. The two sides signed a list of key projects for production capacity and investment cooperation, of which 30 projects were identified. The bilateral trade has developed well and the people-to-people and cultural exchanges have been deeply rooted in people’s hearts. Related cooperation has been deeply favored by the people of both countries. The two sides have signed the minutes of the meeting and witnessed the signing of cooperation documents in the fields of investment, trade, energy, postal services, communications and media. In the next stage, the Committee will commit to strengthening the alignment of development strategies of the two countries, promoting practical cooperation, intensifying people-to-people and cultural exchanges, advancing mutual benefit and win-win results, and building a new pattern of all-dimensional cooperation in China and Saudi Arabia, so as to continuously enrich the connotation of the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Saudi Arabia
SG: The “Two Sessions” held recently in China have aroused the attention of the world. What new figures and highlights in respect of China’s economy are included in Premier Li Keqiang’s Report on the Work of the Government?
LH: Over the past five years, the Chinese government has focused on developing new and better approaches to macro regulation, kept major indicators within an appropriate range, and achieved stable, positive economic performance. China’s gross domestic product (GDP) has risen from 54 trillion to 82.7 trillion yuan (approximately $13.16 trillion), registering average annual growth of 7.1 percent; and its share in the global economy has grown to roughly 15 percent up from 11.4 percent. China’s contribution to global growth has exceeded 30 percent. A number of 68 million of poverty population has been decreased and the poverty incidence dropped from 10.2% to 3.1%. In the year just passed, GDP grew 6.9 percent and personal income rose 7.3 percent. Around 13.51 million new urban jobs were created, and the jobless rate was the lowest in recent years. The state of play in the economy was good, with growth and quality, structural improvement, and performance each reinforcing the other.