November 17, 2017 / 1:09 AM / a month ago

China's Xi offers support for Saudi amid regional uncertainty

BEIJING (Reuters) - China supports Saudi Arabia’s efforts to safeguard national sovereignty and achieve greater development, President Xi Jinping told Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, at a time of regional tensions between Saudi Arabia, Iran, Lebanon and Yemen.

China's President Xi Jinping listens to Vietnam's Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong (not pictured) during a meeting at Central Office of the Communist Party of Vietnam in Hanoi, Vietnam, November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Luong Thai Linh/Pool

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 raise its profile, with Salman visiting China in March.

Speaking by telephone, Xi told Salman that China’s determination to deepen strategic cooperation with Saudi Arabia will not waver, no matter how the international and regional situation changes, China’s Foreign Ministry said late on Thursday.

Remarking on the importance of maintaining close communication between the two countries’ heads of state, Xi said China and Saudi Arabia are comprehensive strategic partners whose strategic mutual trust is deepening.

“China supports Saudi Arabia’s efforts to safeguard national sovereignty and realise greater development,” the ministry cited Xi as saying, without elaborating.

The statement made no specific mention of issues like the resignation as Lebanon Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri while in Saudi Arabia, railing against Riyadh’s bitter foe Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

Saudi-led forces, which back the government in Yemen, have also been targeting the Iran-allied Houthis in a more than two-year war there.

China has had to tread a fine line between Riyadh and Tehran as Beijing has close ties with Iran as well.

The ministry statement said Xi and Salman also exchanged views on international and regional issues of common concern, but gave no details.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry

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