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Xi Arrives in Saudi Arabia, Starts 3-Nation Tour of the Middle East

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Saudi Arabia on January 19 on the first stop of his three-nation tour of the Middle East, as the world's second-largest economy seeks closer political and economic ties with the region.

This is the first state visit by a Chinese head of state to Saudi Arabia in seven years. Xi will also travel to Egypt and Iran on his first overseas visit this year that lasts from January 19 to 23.

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.

"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.

During his two-day stay in Riyadh, Xi is scheduled to hold summit talks with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to discuss lifting bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership.

He will also meet chiefs of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

"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 nations," Xi said.

Saudi Arabia is China's biggest global supplier of crude oil and its biggest trading partner in West Asia and Africa. In 2013, China became the biggest trading partner of Saudi Arabia for the first time.

Two-way trade reached $69.1 billion in 2014, growing by 230 times over that of 1990 when the two countries established diplomatic ties.

Saudi Arabia is the first Arab country Xi visits in the capacity of Chinese president, and this Middle East tour comes as China and Arab countries mark 60 years in diplomatic relations in 2016.

In Egypt, Xi will speak at the Arab League headquarters to make clear China's policy and propositions on promoting peace and development in the Middle East.

Prior to the visit, China issued its first official Arab Policy Paper, voicing hopes to bolster traditional friendly ties and all-round cooperation with Arab countries, particularly on synergizing their respective development strategies in the process of jointly pursuing the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative.

"According to Arab states' needs, China will continue to provide assistance within our means to Arab states through bilateral and multilateral channels, to help them improve self-development capability and people's livelihood," the paper says.

It also says that China supports the Middle East peace process, adheres to political solution to regional hotspot issues, and supports the establishment of a nuclear weapon-free and WMD-free zone in the region.

Xi's visit also comes just days after international nuclear-related sanctions on Iran were lifted following the UN nuclear agency's announcement that Tehran had scaled back its nuclear program. China has played a constructive role in prior negotiations.

"China and Iran are faced with important opportunities in developing their relations," Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Ming told reporters on January 18. "This visit will be a milestone that is to usher in a new era of bilateral ties featuring comprehensive, long-term and stable development."

(Xinhua News Agency January 19, 2016)

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