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Saudi delegation heads to China without Crown Prince due to King's illness - sources

May 22, 2024 at 3:41 pm

Saudi, China Flags [FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images]

Saudi Arabia is sending a delegation that includes the Kingdom’s investment minister to China this week, four people familiar with the matter said, as the world’s largest oil exporter looks for foreign funding for its ambitious economic transformation, Reuters reports.

Two other people briefed on the visit said that Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, the Kingdom’s Prime Minister and de facto day-to-day ruler, had been expected to lead the delegation to China after the Japan visit. He will, however, stay in Riyadh after his elderly father, the King, underwent medical treatment in Saudi Arabia for lung inflammation, which already made the Crown Prince postpone the 20-23 May Japan trip.

The Saudi officials are expected to arrive in China from Tokyo, where Energy Minister, Prince Abdulaziz Bin Salman, and Investment Minister, Khalid Al Falih, took part in a bilateral business forum with Japanese officials and executives.

Two people familiar with the delegation’s itinerary said that Saudi officials would attend a business forum in China, with the visit expected to last two days.

Saudi Arabia’s government communication office did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on the delegation’s visit to China or the Prince’s recent travel plans.

READ: Saudi Arabia sanctioned lethal force to clear land for Neom development

Saudi Arabia is pursuing a costly economic plan, known as Vision 2030 and spearheaded by the Crown Prince, to diversify its economy away from fossil fuels and to develop a vibrant private sector.

The government is pumping billions of dollars into the plan that includes building massive new urban developments and investing in manufacturing and other sectors to help create thousands of new jobs.

Saudi executives visited Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong last month to promote the Kingdom’s ambitious NEOM project, a vast urban area being developed on the Red Sea coast.

NEOM includes the Line, a futuristic city to be built between mirrored walls that are to extend 170 km (105.63 miles) into the desert.

“Collaboration with China will continue to play a vital role in the development of NEOM and we look forward to strengthening our engagement with the country’s business community,” NEOM’s Chief Executive, Nadhmi Al-Nasr, in a statement on 17 April.

But with a budget deficit of 79 billion riyals ($21.07 billion) projected for this year, Saudi Arabia has announced delays to some of its mega projects.

During this week’s visit to Japan, the Saudi delegation met with heads of top Japanese banks, including JBIC, MUFG, Mizuho, SMBC and Nomura, according to a document seen by Reuters.

READ: Saudi Arabia scales down $1.5tn Neom mega project