Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday on an official visit to forge closer ties with Riyadh and Arab states.
He will stay until Saturday to attend the inaugural China-Arab States Summit and to meet GCC leaders at the China-Gulf conference in the capital, Riyadh.
He said he was "happy" to visit the kingdom for the first time since 2016 and extended his "sincere greetings and best wishes" to the government and people.
"King Salman and I are leading bilateral relations to achieve great development and have strongly contributed to the promotion of peace, stability, prosperity and development in the region," he said, adding he was looking forward to the coming summits.
It is only his third overseas visit since the outbreak of Covid-19, which has heavily affected China's international trade due to strict entry requirements to the country. The measures are part of a wider policy known as zero Covid, which has involved sweeping, last-minute lockdowns that in some cases lasted weeks and even months.
But China's coronavirus rules were eased significantly on Wednesday, restoring some confidence to international investors.
Saudi jets spewing white and green smoke accompanied the Air China flight carrying Mr Xi as it approached Riyadh. Later, seven more jets conducted a fly-past in China's colours of red and yellow.
Mr Xi smiled gently as he waved from the door of the plane, then slowly descended the carpeted steps to meet the welcoming committee. Many of the dignitaries and staff at the airport wore masks as protection against Covid-19.
Mr Xi was met by Riyadh governor Prince Faisal bin Bandar Al Saud, Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and the governor of sovereign wealth fund PIF, Yasir Al Rumayyan.
King Salman invited Mr Xi “in order to strengthen the historical relations and distinguished strategic partnership that unites the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with the People's Republic of China”, the state-run Saudi Press Agency said before the visit.
Economic and development co-operation will be discussed, it added.
Chinese flags were hoisted along major roads in Riyadh, while Mr Xi was pictured on the front pages of newspapers that highlighted the trip's potential economic benefits.
Mr Xi’s attendance at the China-Arab States Summit marks the “largest and highest-level diplomatic event between China and the Arab world since the founding of the People’s Republic of China”, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said on Wednesday.
The summit marks a turning point for bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia, the ministry said.
The two countries will sign deals worth more than $29.3 billion during the visit, said SPA.
A number of agreements are already in the works, including the signing of a memorandum of understanding between King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre and China’s Economics and Technology Research Institute.
The think tanks will exchange information and conduct research together around energy, economics and climate change.
“We see a lot of common interest and alignment between China’s and Saudi Arabia's position when it comes to energy and climate. We both understand and reiterate the idea of common but differentiated responsibility when it comes to climate change,” Kapsarc’s president Fahad Alajlan said in a statement.
“As important energy producers and consumers in the world, China and Saudi Arabia play an important role in maintaining the stability of the international energy market, addressing climate change and promoting the realisation of energy green transformation goals,” added Etri's president Yu Guo.
China's ambassador to the kingdom has said the Riyadh summits, chaired by the leaders of the kingdom, China, the Gulf and Arab countries, will “enhance the interests of humanity”.
China's consul in Jeddah, Tan Banglin, said China's commitment to developing relations with Arab countries was based on five principles: Non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, mutual benefit, equality and peaceful coexistence.
"It is certain that the three summits will result in decisions that contribute to advancing and supporting joint Chinese-Arab co-operation in the fields of oil and natural gas [and] renewable energy," he said.
"China will also push for the implementation of the Global Security Initiative, through which it works with Arab countries to adhere to the concept of integrated and sustainable common security, and adhere to the principle of resolving disputes and conflicts between countries through peaceful means."
The US has commented on the visit, saying that Beijing is attempting to grow its influence around the world, describing the visit as "certainly not a surprise".
"We are mindful of the influence that China is trying to grow around the world," John Kirby, the National Security Council's co-ordinator for strategic communications, said in a statement. "The Middle East is certainly one of those regions where they want to deepen their level of influence,
"We believe that many of the things they're trying to pursue and the manner in which they are trying to pursue it are not conducive to preserving the rules based international order that the United States and our vast network of allies and partners are trying to preserve.
"We remain focused on our national security interests and our partnerships in the Middle East. That hasn't changed," he added. "Saudi Arabia is one of those strategic partners, it has been for 80 years and that partnership continues.
"We are not asking nations to choose between the United States and China."