A warm handshake: Xi and Biden's visits to Saudi Arabia compared

Leaders of China and US experienced contrasting welcomes in visits only months apart

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Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman greeted Chinese President Xi Jinping with a warm handshake on Thursday, a striking contrast to the swift fist bump between himself and US President Joe Biden in July.

The contrast of the greeting ceremonies for Mr Xi and Mr Biden was apparent.

Mr Xi arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to much fanfare, a striking difference to the low-key reception for Mr Biden.

Saudi state television showed Mr Xi walking down the steps of his presidential aircraft at King Khalid International Airport where Chinese and senior Saudi officials awaited him.

In the run-up to his visit, Mr Biden had criticised the crown prince after the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.

The US had perhaps wanted a toned-down ceremony because of those comments and pressure Mr Biden was facing at home for visiting the kingdom.

The difference in reception is not surprising given the purpose of the Biden and Xi visits are unrelated, said Douglas Silliman, the former US ambassador to Kuwait and Iraq, now president of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

"Mr Biden was not looking for a lavish ceremonial reception — especially given some of the public criticism that he and others further left in the Democratic party levelled against the Saudi government," Mr Silliman told The National.

The former diplomat said Riyadh "wants to maintain its close relations with the United States even as it tries to expand and deepen relations with China".

The arrival ceremony

Mr Xi was greeted by Saudi Prince Faisal bin Bandar, governor of the Riyadh region, and Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister.

A purple carpet was rolled out, cannon were fired and the Royal Saudi Air Force’s aerobatic team put on a display to welcome Mr Xi.

Riyadh was bedecked with Chinese flags ahead of his arrival.

On Thursday, Mr Xi arrived at Al Yamama Palace in Riyadh and was greeted the crown prince and later met King Salman.

The two leaders shook hands as an honour guard on horseback carried Saudi and Chinese flags.

They stood side by side as a brass band played their national anthems, then chatted as they walked into the palace, which is the king's official residence and seat of the royal court.

After touching down in Jeddah, Mr Biden was also greeted by a local governor on a lush purple carpet. Prince Khalid bin Faisal, governor of Makkah, as well as Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, the Saudi ambassador to the US, after which he was ushered into a car.

Photos of Mr Biden and Prince Mohammed sharing a fist bump were beamed around the world.

The greeting preceded a meeting that Mr Biden had suggested might never happen.

The US president shook hands with King Salman bin Abdulaziz, the crown prince’s father.

Meetings

Mr Xi’s visit includes Saudi-Chinese negotiations, a China-Arab meeting and a China-Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) summit.

Together these events will be "an epoch-making milestone in the history of the development of China-Arab relations", China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said upon Mr Xi’s arrival.

Top Arab leaders expected to arrive for Friday' summit include Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, Tunisian President Kais Saied, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Sudan's de facto leader Abdel Fattah Al Burhan.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani, Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch and Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati have also confirmed their attendance.

A similar summit took place during Mr Biden's visit.

Mr Biden had a full day of meetings with regional leaders and then went to hold the summit.

Leaders of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, the UAE, Egypt, Iraq and Jordan attended.

The conference was held in Jeddah, where the American President told nine heads of state from the region — the GCC members as well as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq — that his country would "not walk away" from the Middle East so as not to leave "a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran".

What kind of deals were made?

A package of announcements were made between Riyadh and Washington during Mr Biden's visit, from removing peacekeepers from a strategic island off the Saudi Arabian and Egyptian coasts to co-operation in mobile technology.

The deals included the energy, manufacturing, aerospace, health care, tourism and education sectors.

Mr Xi and King Salman signed a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement first reached during Xi's last visit in 2016, state media reported, and agreed to hold a heads of state meeting every two years.

Chinese and Saudi firms also signed 34 deals for investment in green energy, information technology, cloud services, transport, construction and other sectors, SPA reported. It gave no figures, but had earlier said the two countries would seal initial agreements worth $30 billion.

A memorandum of understanding was also signed memorandum with China's Huawei Technologies, on cloud computing and building high-tech complexes in Saudi cities.

Updated: December 08, 2022, 6:03 PM
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