Saudi Arabia's King Salman began his first official visit to Beijing Wednesday, at a time when China is interested in playing a mediator role in the Middle East region between the two rival countries of Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Describing China as a friend to Saudi Arabia and Iran, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said earlier that he hopes both countries can resolve their differences through talks, ahead of a visit by the Saudi king to China.
"We hope that Saudi Arabia and Iran can resolve the problems that exist between them via equal and friendly consultations," Wang said on March 8 at an annual news conference in Beijing. "China is friends with both Saudi Arabia and Iran. If there is a need, China is willing to play our necessary role," he added.
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 get more involved in efforts to end Syria's six-year-old civil war, where Riyadh supports rebels battling Syrian leader Bashar Assad. Last year China also offered support for Yemen's government, which is backed by a Saudi-led Gulf Arab coalition in a war against the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement that controls much of the country. China has had to tread a careful line, though, as it also has close relations with Iran. Its President Xi Jinping visited both Saudi Arabia and Iran in January last year. King Salman began a month-long Asian tour late February to build ties with the world's fastest growing importers of Saudi oil and promote investment opportunities, including the sale of a stake in its giant state firm Saudi Aramco.
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