KEY POINTS

  • An unidentified Saudi official told the Journal that MBS and Xi are “close friends”
  • The Crown Prince previously said he 'doesn’t care' if he is misunderstood by Biden
  • Xi and Bin Salman held a phone conversation last year

Saudi Arabia has invited Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Riyadh, The Wall Street Journal reported. The move comes as Kingdom’s diplomatic ties with the U.S. have been strained since the Biden administration entered the White House, according to the report.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) invited Xi to visit the capital after Ramadan as part of its efforts to strengthen relations with China, the daily reported. If Xi agrees to the trip, it will be his first foreign state visit since the pandemic started, the Journal reported. Ramadan 2022 will begin on April 2 and will end on May 2.

An unnamed Saudi official said the “crown prince and Xi are close friends and both understand that there is huge potential for stronger ties,” the Journal reported. “It is not just ‘They buy oil from us and we buy weapons from them,’” the daily quoted the official as saying.

In contrast, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also called MBS, has refused to hold talks with U.S. President Joe Biden over the past few weeks as the latter seeks to curb the impact of spiking oil prices amid the Russia-Ukraine war, the Journal reported.

While Biden has spoken on the phone with Saudi’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, he has yet to have an official conversation with the Crown Prince. The Journal also reported earlier this month that Bin Salman and Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan, both declined to set up phone calls with the Biden administration for talks on containing surging oil prices.

Earlier this month, Bin Salman told The Atlantic that he doesn’t care if Biden misunderstands him. “Simply, I do not care… It’s up to him to think about the interests of America,” he told the outlet. Bin Salman’s comments came years after Biden said during his presidential campaign in 2019 that “we were going to in fact make them pay the price, and make them in fact the pariah that they are.” At the time, Biden was referring to the 2018 killing of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, a well-known critic of Bin Salman and his government.

In April 2021, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that Xi and Bin Salman held a phone conversation wherein the ministry quoted the Crown Prince as “calling China a trustworthy good brother and an important strategic partner of Saudi Arabia.”

Meanwhile, Bin Salman “feels snubbed” by Biden’s seeming refusal to engage with him since he was seated as U.S. president, The Guardian reported. Analysts said Biden may need to soften his stance on Saudi Arabia as the oil price crisis drags on due to the Russia-Ukraine war.

An unnamed U.S. official with knowledge of the situation told CNN this week that the Biden administration admits “there is no other way” around the country’s ties with Saudi Arabia. "It is hard to get to a better place without dealing with MBS,” he said. 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Bahrain's Prime Minister and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa hold a meeting at the Royal Palace in Sakhir Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman poses for a photo during a meeting with Bahrain's Prime Minister and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa at the Royal Palace in Sakhir, Bahrain, December 9, 2021. Bahrain News Agency/Handout via REUTERS Photo: Reuters / BAHRAIN NEWS AGENCY