BEIJING — Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Friday with a Chinese vice-premier in a bid to strengthen relations in the face of criticism from the West over the kingdom’s human rights record and its war in Yemen.
Prince Mohammed held bilateral talks Friday with Han Zheng at the Great Hall of the People before presiding at a China-Saudi co-operation forum. That was followed by a ceremony to sign agreements including those on petroleum, the chemical industry, investment, renewable energy and anti-terrorism.
Saudi Arabia is one of China’s top crude oil suppliers and an important market for its exports, including military drones. Mohammed is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping later Friday,
The Crown Prince’s visit follows trips to India and Pakistan, which send millions of labourers to Saudi Arabia and are seeking closer economic ties.
It comes five months after he came under intense pressure in the U.S. and elsewhere following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. In the U.S. Congress, criticism has also been building for months over the kingdom’s handling of the war in Yemen, where it is accused of causing widespread casualties and suffering among civilians.
China has refrained from faulting Saudi Arabia over such issues, in keeping with its long-held tradition of non-interference in other countries’ affairs.
For its part, Saudi Arabia has avoided criticizing China’s authoritarian communist government over its treatment of its Muslim minority groups as part of a wide-ranging crackdown on religion and minority languages that includes the detention of an estimated 1 million Uighurs and others in internment camps.
That’s despite the ruling Al Saud family’s image of itself as the defender of Muslims across the world and protector of Islam’s two holiest shrines.