Xi Jinping’s grand welcome in Saudi Arabia compared to Joe Biden’s ‘cold fist bump’

Xi Jinping’s grand entry into Saudi Arabia that saw his Air China Boeing 747 flanked by jets of green and white smoke to represent the Gulf country’s flag has been contrasted with the lukewarm welcome received by Joe Biden during his visit to the country a few months earlier.

Footage released by Saudi state television showed Mr Xi’s bombastic welcome into the Gulf country on Wednesday, also marked by a number of other displays of national symbolism and solidarity.

Another set of jets sprayed red and yellow in the colours of China’s national flag, a military fly-past took place along with the firing of cannon and scores of Saudi officials, including the governor of Riyadh Prince Faisal bin Bandar, welcomed the Chinese leader at the tarmac for his three-day visit.

Members of the Saudi Royal Guard on Arabian horses escorted Mr Xi’s car to the royal palace in Riyadh, where the country’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave him a warm welcome with a smile and handshake.

The symbolic show of partnership confirmed the Gulf nation’s growing closeness with Beijing and marked a stark contrast with the way in which Mr Biden was greeted.

The US president was quietly received on arrival at the Red Sea port city of Jeddah by a regional governor and Mr Biden met the Saudi crown prince with a controversial fist bump, a move that was met with severe backlash in Mr Biden’s home country.

The BBC’s Middle East business correspondent Sameer Hashmi said Mr Biden’s controversial fist bump came across as “cold” compared to the “firm handshake” exchanged between the crown prince and Mr Xi.

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“Interesting times in the Middle East as [the] US looks to retain its influence while China looks to build its own,” said Kabir Taneja, a fellow at New Delhi’s Observer Research Foundation.

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This could be a reflection of the trade and energy interests of both nations. Ian Bremmer, a political scientist and president of the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, explained that China and Saudi Arabia thought of themselves as “the last men standing” in terms of the demand and supply for fossil fuels respectively.

“That really aligns these countries much more than with the US over the medium to long term,” he said, adding that a lot more investment between the two nations can be expected from this high-level visit.

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During the key diplomatic visit of the year, Mr Xi plans to meet both 86-year-old King Salman and the 37-year-old crown prince.

Mr Xi’s visit stemmed from an invite by the Saudi king, said Zongyuan Zoe Liu, senior fellow for international political economy at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) think tank.

The king did not just urge the Chinese leader to attend a Saudi-China summit, but two others.

“He invited him to also attend another broader summit, one of which is the Arab-China summit and the other is the GCC summit. And China has already confirmed that Xi Jinping will attend every single one of these,” Ms Zongyuan told Bloomberg.

She pointed out that “when Biden visited the region earlier this year, he did not receive the same kind of treatment”.

“We can safely say that the Xi Jinping visit comes at the time when the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia have soured and plummeted tremendously,” she said.

The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, said Mr Xi’s visit is the “largest and highest-level diplomatic event between China and the Arab world since the founding of the People’s Republic of China and will become an epoch-making milestone in the history of China-Arab relations”.

The Eurasia Group said the tone of this visit is “likely to be much more positive” than Mr Biden’s.