On January 18th, 2020, China’s leader Xi Jinping returned from a state visit to Myanmar. Since then, he did not leave China except for a brief visit to Hong Kong SAR in June 2022, without staying overnight. Even his travels within China have been much reduced in the past 2 ½ years.
Of course, almost all Chinese citizens had to share this fate of not going anywhere internationally. Less than 30 million border crossings from Mainland China took place since January 18th, 2020, and more than half of these ended in Macau SAR.
The planned visit to the Kingdom of Saudi-Arabia this year therefore found a lot of attention in international media. China is not only the biggest trading partner and the No. 1 buyer of oil from KSA, it is also increasingly advancing its strategic position in the region.
He is expected to be greeted with a gala reception to match that given to Donald Trump on his first trip abroad as president, being on a much grander scale than the reception of President Biden recently or President Xi during his first visit in 2016.
Diplomatically both countries have been nice to each other. The de facto Saudi leader, Mohammed bin Salman has defended China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority and Hong Kong’s new national security law, whereas the Chinese government China stayed mum about Saudi Arabia’s invasion of Yemen, its boycott of Qatar, or the murder of the dissident Jamal Khashoggi.
However, your humble editor could not find a single commentator pointing out that this first long-distance trip also carries another metatext: Outbound travel is possible again. KSA has a low number of CoViD-19 cases, but still every day one or several patients die from CoViD-19. There is no anniversary or important international summit he needs to attend in Riyadh. Indeed, when three weeks ago Indonesian President Joko Widodo during a visit to Beijing invited Xi Jinping to the G20 summit in Bali in mid-November, he just “expressed his thanks and wished complete success for the summit,” according to Chinese media, without giving a clear answer.
So there is another glimmer of hope that the increasing economic problems and the anger of the 80,000 well-to-do Chinese trapped for more than a week on Hainan will push the gates open a bit faster.
As always, all best wishes from Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt and the whole COTRI WEEKLY team!