Top Chinese, Saudi officials vow to boost business environment as Beijing and Riyadh push for stronger economic ties

Top Chinese and Saudi officials promised to create a better business environment to support companies from both sides as Beijing and Riyadh ride the momentum of growing economic ties.

At the opening of the 10th Arab-China Business Conference in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh on Sunday morning, Hu Chunhua, vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said China would continue to support Chinese and Arab businesses in deepening investment opportunities in both directions.

“We welcome Arab businesses to expand their investments in China, and we would also provide support to strong Chinese businesses in investing in Arab countries,” Hu said.

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“China is going to progress pragmatically with Saudi Arabia on revitalising our respective civilisations. We will deepen cooperation on production capacity and basic infrastructure, and in strengthening trade, investment and financial relations, in order to help diversify Saudi Arabia’s economic development,” Hu said, adding that China would boost growth in the country’s green energy, health, aviation and digital economic sectors.

“We are also looking forward to seeing a more open and fair business environment for investors in Arab countries, where investors’ rights can be rightfully protected,” he said.

In his keynote speech on Sunday, Saudi Investment Minister Khalid al-Falih said he hoped talks on a China-Gulf Cooperation Council Free Trade Agreement – which began in 2004 but have repeatedly stalled – would soon result in a deal.

“We have come a long way. The leadership from both sides is showing willingness,” Falih said, adding that the agreement would “enable and empower” Saudi’s industries to export, “so we hope all countries that negotiate with us for free trade deals know we need to protect our new, emerging industries”.

“We need to provide them with market economics and some kind of protection,” he said.

The conference, attended by more than 3,000 participants including businesspeople from mainland China and Hong Kong, was held against the backdrop of Beijing and Riyadh’s growing interest in stronger economic ties as both countries face increasingly challenging relations with Washington.

Hu, the most senior Chinese official at the two-day conference, said the event was an important opportunity to “strengthen” and “practically implement” achievements from the first China-Arab summit that Chinese President Xi Jinping attended in Riyadh in December.

This was understood to be Hu’s first public overseas trip since he became vice-chairman of the CPPCC in March.

Bank of China International chief executive Li Tong and CITIC Capital senior managing director Wang Fanglu were invited to speak as panellists at the conference.

Hong Kong Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Algernon Yau Ying-wah and Hang Lung Group chairman Ronnie Chan Chi-chung also attended the conference.

Riyadh aims to diversify its oil-dominated economy by encouraging investment towards other emerging sectors such as health, infrastructure, recreation and tourism, according to the country’s Saudi Vision 2030 plan, introduced by its de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“We are proud of what the partnership between us has achieved so far and what prompts us to further strengthen it is the mutual desire to develop and expand the volume of businesses and partnerships through linkage and alignment,” Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan said in his opening speech on Sunday.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary general of the League of Arab States, who also gave a keynote speech on Sunday, said China’s business cooperation with Arab states had “enhanced the investment atmosphere” at both the regional and global levels.

He added that the conference would lead important discussions as countries faced the “negative repercussions of the global economy” and the implications on different sectors from the “crisis of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict”.

China is the Arab world’s largest trading partner, with total trade reaching US$430 billion in 2022. Saudi Arabia alone accounts for 25 per cent of total trade between China and Arab countries, according to Riyadh’s official numbers.

A first-time attendee at the conference, Nasir Mushtaq, technical sales manager of the Saudi tech company Creativity and Technology, said he was looking for Chinese business partners that could offer tech solutions.

“We have always worked with European partners, but we want to look for more cost-effective solutions,” Mushtaq said. “We expect the cost to go down 30 to 40 per cent if we work with Chinese tech companies.”

This year’s conference, jointly organised by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Investment, the Arab League secretary general, the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade and the Union of Arab Chambers, features panels on topics including cooperation in food security, global trade, supply chains, financing and China’s signature Belt and Road Initiative.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2023 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2023. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.


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