China, Saudi Arabia eye $65bn in deals as king visits

King Salman and the President of Republic of China, Xi Jinping witness signing of cooperation memorandums of understanding and programs between the two governments. (SPA)
Updated 16 March 2017
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China, Saudi Arabia eye $65bn in deals as king visits

BEIJING: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman oversaw the signing of deals worth potentially $65 billion on the first day of a visit to Beijing on Thursday, as the world’s largest oil exporter looks to cement ties with the world’s second-largest economy.
The monarch, who has overseen the launch of an ambitious economic reform plan since his accession two years ago, is on a month-long Asian tour.
King Salman arrived in China Wednesday with a reported entourage of around 1,000 people, following stops in Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The visits, to countries that include some of world’s fastest-growing importers of Saudi oil, aim to promote investment opportunities in the Kingdom, including the sale of a stake in its giant state firm Saudi Aramco.
Saudi Arabia has sought to boost oil sales to China, the world’s second-largest oil market, after losing market share to Russia last year, by working mostly with China’s top three state oil firms.
In Beijing’s cavernous Great Hall of the People, President Xi Jinping told King Salman that China was a reliable and stable oil export market and the two countries should deepen cooperation.
“For a long time, China and Islamic countries have respected each other and had win-win cooperation, and have created a model of the peaceful coexistence of different cultures,” Xi said, according to China's Foreign Ministry.
King Salman told Xi he hoped China could play an even greater role in Middle East affairs, the ministry added.
“Saudi Arabia is willing to work hard with China to promote global and regional peace, security and prosperity,” King Salman said.

‘Old friends’
Deputy Chinese Foreign Minister Zhang Ming said the memorandums of understanding and letters of intent were potentially worth about $65 billion, involving everything from energy to space.
“President Xi Jinping and King Salman are old friends,” Zhang said. “Practical cooperation between China and Saudi Arabia has already made major achievements, and has huge potential.”
Few other details were given about the 14 memoranda of understanding that were signed at the Great Hall of the People.
Besides the MOUs agreed between the two governments, Saudi and Chinese companies signed 21 deals, ranging from exploring investments in oil and petrochemical plants to ecommerce and co-operating in renewable energy markets.
For Saudi Aramco, the potential investments fit with its strategy to expand its refining and chemicals portfolio in its bid to diversify assets and secure long-term agreements for its oil.
An MoU with state-run Norinco will look into building refining and chemical projects in China, while Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) and Sinopec have agreed to develop petrochemical projects in China and Saudi Arabia.
The Norinco deal could involve exploring the possibility of a greenfield refinery and chemical plant in Panjin, Liaoning province, while also upgrading an existing refinery and petrochemical facility in the same location, an industry source said.
Sinopec and SABIC, one of the world’s largest petrochemical companies, jointly run a refinery in Tinajin.

‘Honest broker’
China has traditionally played little role in Middle East conflicts or diplomacy, despite its reliance on the region for oil. But it has been trying to get more involved in efforts to end Syria’s six-year-old civil war, where Riyadh supports rebels battling President Bashar Assad.
Last year China also offered support for Yemen’s government, which is backed by a Saudi-led Gulf Arab coalition in a war against the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement that controls much of the country.
Zhang said both the Yemen and Syria crises were discussed by King Salman and Xi, and both leaders agreed that these issues must be resolved politically via talks.
China has had to tread a careful line, though, as it also has close relations with Iran. Xi visited both Saudi Arabia and Iran in January last year. Next week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits China.
One Beijing-based diplomat from a Muslim-majority country told Reuters that China was trying to play the role of “honest broker” in the Middle East, as it lacks the historical baggage of the Americans or the Europeans.
“China does not take sides and that is appreciated,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In an interview with Chinese state news agency Xinhua, Saudi ambassador Turki Bin Mohammed Al-Mady emphasized his country's potential role in China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative.
That policy is a strategy to increase trade links and market connectivity between China, Europe and regions in between, based loosely on the ancient "Silk Road" trading route.
“In terms of strategic location, Saudi Arabia serves as the central hub connecting three continents — Asia, Africa and Europe — and has been an important part of the initiative,” Al-Mady said.
King Salman’s first visit to China since taking the throne in 2015 coincided with a visit to Washington by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, second deputy premier and defense minister.
Joseph Kechichian, a senior fellow at Riyadh’s King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, said ties between Saudi Arabia and US had room to grow.
“Past (China-Saudi) ties were good, but at least from a Saudi perspective, can use a significant boost,” Kechichian said.


Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

Updated 20 July 2019
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Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

  • The TV images beamed from 320,000km away in space left viewers astounded but happy
  • The TV coverage influenced thinking and attitudes in the Kingdom just like everywhere else

DUBAI: It was a sleepy afternoon in Saudi Arabia, just days before the end of the school vacation, and Saudis had their eyes glued to their TV sets as they waited for live coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Before July 20, 1969, the idea of a human walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction. However, almost overnight, sci-fi had turned into reality with a live broadcast showing American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s dramatic descent onto the empty lunar landscape.

Between science fiction and science fact, the live coverage of the lunar landing amounted to an unusual fusion of news and entertainment.

Saudi TV technicians bring the first live images of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing to
viewers around the Kingdom. (Supplied photo)

The historic images — beamed back to Earth more than 320,000 km away — left Saudi viewers astounded and confused, but mostly elated to be witnessing such an epoch-making event.

The event was covered live on television and radio stations in Saudi Arabia. Most Saudis and residents living in the Kingdom watched it on Saudi channels 1 and 3, owned by Saudi Aramco.

Hessah Al-Sobaie, a housewife from Al-Dawadmi, recalled watching the moon landing from her grandparents’ backyard as an 11-year-old.

“It felt weird watching a human walk on the moon,” she told Arab News. “I remember the endless questions I asked as a child.”

While most people were aware that going to the moon was risky, many Saudis believed that such a journey was impossible and all but unthinkable.


EVENTS WATCH

1. NASA’s Apollo 11 mission control room in Houston has been restored to its 1969 condition and regular tours
will be conducted by the Johnson Space Center.

2. NASA ‘Science Live’ will have a special edition on July 23 on board the aircraft carrier that recovered the Apollo 11 capsule.

3. A summer moon festival and family street fair will be held in Wapakoneta, Ohio, from July 17-20.

4. Downtown Houston’s Discovery green will host a free public screening of the ‘Apollo 11’ documentary, with an appearance by NASA astronaut Steve Bowen.

5. Amateur radio operators will host a series of events on July 20-21.

6. The US Space and Rocket Center is staging a special ‘Rockets on Parade’ exhibition.


The Apollo 11 mission prompted discussions across the Middle East over the reality of what people saw on their TV screens. Some Saudi scholars found it hard to believe their eyes.

“I watched it, and I clearly remember each and every detail of the coverage,” Hayat Al-Bokhari, 68, a retired school principal in Jeddah, said.

“My father, Abdul, was 56 at the time. He said the landing was faked. He couldn’t believe or accept that a human could go to the moon.”

Khaled Almasud, 70, a retired university lecturer, was a student in the US state of Oregon at the time of the mission. “Americans were stunned and over the moon, happy with their national achievement. But many Saudis like me were either in denial or insisting on more proof.”

Since the beginning of the 1960s, King Faisal had been rapidly transforming Saudi Arabia, inviting foreign-trained experts to help build a modern country with world-class infrastructure.

Billie Tanner, now 90, lived in the Kingdom for many years with her husband, Larry, and their two children, Laurie and Scott, aged six and four. The family had just arrived in Saudi Arabia and headed to the Aramco compound in Ras Tanura in the Eastern Province.

A screengrab of video of the first lunar landing beamed toward Earth and shown on television worldwide. 

“We were going through a culture shock,” she told Arab News. “I wasn’t thinking of the moon landing, but we heard about it on the news from Dhahran.

“My kids tried to see the astronauts on the moon with their binoculars and said they could see them walking around.”

The Apollo 11 spaceflight has become a milestone in the annals of human history and science. Since 1969 space exploration has greatly expanded man’s knowledge of the universe, far beyond Earth’s limits.

The captivating live coverage of the moon landing inspired millions of people around the world, profoundly influencing their thinking and attitudes.

The people of Saudi Arabia were no exception.