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China and Saudi Arabia agree to more direct flights

The new deal with Hainan Airlines is part of Saudi Arabia's plan to attract 4m visitors from China by 2030 TDelCoro/Creative Commons
The new deal with Hainan Airlines is part of Saudi Arabia's plan to attract 4m visitors from China by 2030
  • Hainan hails ‘positive momentum’
  • Kingdom targeting Chinese visitors
  • Bilateral trade worth $106bn in 2022

The Saudi Air Connectivity Program (ACP) has signed an agreement with Hainan Airlines to launch two new air routes serving the kingdom and China as the two countries continue to forge closer ties.

Flights from Riyadh and Jeddah to Beijing were opened by Saudia in August, providing 165 million people in northern China with direct access to the kingdom, according to a report from the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

The country’s national carrier already operated a route connecting Jeddah and Guangzhou.

Jason Liu, commercial VP of Hainan Airlines, said the expansion “comes at a time of positive global momentum” for China and Saudi Arabia.

“The world’s attention is increasingly drawn to opportunities in Asia and the Middle East,” he said.

Saudi Arabia is aiming to attract 100 million visitors annually by the end of this decade as part of its Vision 2030 diversification program.

The plans also include boosting the number of passengers through its 29 airports from 100 million to 330 million by 2030.

China represents immense potential to help it achieve this goal as it is expected to be Saudi Arabia’s third largest source market by the end of the decade.

During a meeting in March between Chinese deputy minister of culture and tourism Rao Quan and Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO and member of the Board of Saudi Tourism Authority, it was stated that Saudi Arabia is aiming to attract over four million visitors from China by 2030.

“The entry of Hainan Airlines into the Saudi market will strengthen the bridge between the two countries and will allow tourists and businesses to explore the attractions and opportunities the two nations have to offer,” Ali Rajab, CEO of ACP, said.

Saudi Arabia remains one of China’s strongest global trade partners.

Trade between the two countries was worth more than $106 billion in 2022, up 30 percent from the previous year, according to Saudi government figures.

This year, huge multi-billion dollar deals have been signed between the two countries around agriculture, energy, communications, construction, mining, renewables, space and technology.

Of 45 countries receiving Chinese financing and investment through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the first six months of 2023, the kingdom had the highest construction volume at just under $4 billion, according to a report issued by the Green Finance & Development Center at Fudan University in Shanghai.

The BRI was launched by Chinese president Xi Jinping in October 2013 as a global infrastructure development strategy to invest in more than 150 countries and international organisations across Asia, Africa and Latin America. 

Last month, Saudi Arabia was one of four Middle Eastern nations to be admitted into the Brics bloc of developing countries – made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – bridging regional political divides and signalling increased Chinese influence around the world.

The decision to add another six members – Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE, Egypt, Argentina and Ethiopia – was described as a political victory for China in its bid to bolster the “Global South” against perceptions of US domination.