Explorer Mark Evans recounts his journey across the Empty Quarter

Mark Evans traveled across Rub Al-Khali, the largest continuous sand desert on earth. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 07 December 2018

Explorer Mark Evans recounts his journey across the Empty Quarter

  • Evans took 49 days to make the trek, traveling on foot and accompanied by four camels
  • Evans was following in the footsteps of fellow British explorer Bertram Thomas

RIYADH: Think the age of exploration has come and gone? Think again. At an event organized this week by the Saudi Arabian Scandinavian Society (SASA), Muscat-based British explorer Mark Evans enthralled the audience who had gathered to hear him recount his journey across Rub Al-Khali (the Empty Quarter), the largest continuous sand desert on earth.

Evans was following in the footsteps of fellow British explorer Bertram Thomas, who successfully made the grueling journey. Thomas, guided by Omani Sheikh Saleh bin Kalut, took 60 days to cross the Empty Quarter in 1931. Evans’ expedition set off on the same day, Dec. 10, 85 years later.

Evans, alongside Omani explorers Mohamed Al-Zadjali and Amur Al-Wahaibi, took 49 days to make the trek, traveling on foot and accompanied by four camels. They began their journey in Salalah, Yemen, and ended it in Doha, Qatar, following the same trail as Thomas.

Marie Louise Sodemann, chairperson of SASA — a nonprofit and nonpolitical organization dedicated to building relations between individuals and groups in Saudi Arabia and Scandinavia — opened the event with a few choice words.

“In a way, coming to Saudi Arabia, for me, can be compared to (crossing a desert),” she said. “The people I met all looked similar, in a way. They wore the same clothes, and spoke a language I didn’t understand. But I slowly realized that all I was seeing was my own negative shadow. And that there are as many different destinies as there are people. And that a beautiful soul can be found anywhere.”

Over the course of their journey, Evans explained, his team faced challenges including heavy sandstorms, extreme climate changes (temperatures in the high forties during the day and below zero at night) and temperamental camels. Nevertheless, they emerged triumphant, reportedly the first people to do so since Thomas and his team.

At the end of the presentation, “desert-survival food,” which included traditional jareesh and camel meat, and more humble options such as tinned baked beans, a staple in the desert explorer’s diet even when Thomas set off on his expedition, was available for the audience to sample.

Evans — who is also the founder and executive director of Outward Bound Oman — grew up “captivated” by the idea of exploration and discovery. He spent his childhood, he said, “exploring” the fields around his house with his dog, making his own entertainment. 

He has traveled extensively across the world and has been involved in outdoor education for over 39 years. Queen Elizabeth II honored him in 2012 with an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for his work.

‘From the East to the East’ art exhibition in Riyadh bridges Arab and Chinese cultures

Updated 58 min 31 sec ago

‘From the East to the East’ art exhibition in Riyadh bridges Arab and Chinese cultures

  • Palace of Culture event features 40 works by Arab artists sharing their impressions of China
  • Arab-Chinese music and dance fusion and a live art show dubbed a “symbol of our unity”

RIYADH: While bolstering trade ties and strategic cooperation during President Xi Jinping’s three-day visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and China have also prioritized cross-cultural exchange to help cement the diplomatic relationship.

On the sidelines of Xi’s visit, an event titled “From the East to the East and the Selected Exhibition of Famous Arab Artists Visiting China” was held in the Palace of Culture to showcase the work of Arab and Chinese artists and musicians. 

Sponsored by the Saudi Ministry of Culture, the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and the Arab League, in cooperation with the Saudi Ministry of Information, the event featured a traditional Ardah performance and a Chinese dance routine. 

With the faint sounds of the Chinese musical strings of the zheng, the Arabic version of the string instrument, the qanun, and the oud, a trio of Saudi and Chinese performers created a unique fusion of sounds. 

Since 2009, more than 170 well-known artists from 21 Arab countries have been invited to visit the People’s Republic by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of China. The artists turned what they saw, felt and thought into more than 500 paintings, sculptures and ceramic works.

The exhibition features 40 of these works by an assortment of Saudi, Libyan, Algerian, Palestinian, Egypian, Bahraini, Iraqi and Jordanian artists alongside works by Chinese artist who visited Arab countries. 

It features Chinese paintings of Manama and Amman, and one of an Egyptian man with a camel, decorated with colorful strings and bells, against the iconic backdrop of the Pyramids of Giza.

Influences of the ancient Silk Road were also evident in several of the artworks and large screens covering the walls showing Chinese and Arabic calligraphy and heritage objects. 

The exhibition was organized by Bauhinia Culture Holdings Limited, executed by China Arts and Entertainment Group Ltd., supported by the China Artists Association.

A live art show also took place, highlighting the distinctive architecture of the Great Wall of China and Diriya’s Salwa Palace. 

“I found similarities in the way rock and stone was used here and in my country,” Chinese painter Wang Haikun told Arab News. 

“These similarities prompted me to apply it to my side of the mural as a symbol of our unity.”

Why China is a natural partner for Saudi Arabia in its quest to become a tech innovation leader

Updated 08 December 2022

Why China is a natural partner for Saudi Arabia in its quest to become a tech innovation leader

  • Xi Jinping’s Saudi visit is expected to result in new strategic partnerships worth $29 billion
  • Plans are underway to harmonize Saudi Vision 2030 with China’s Belt and Road Initiative

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and China have both embraced technological innovation and digital transformation as a means of broadening their economies, creating new ways of doing business, and competing globally in what has been termed the fourth industrial revolution.

As an emerging tech giant, China has made immense strides in robotics, artificial intelligence, and space science, as well as internet and 5G connectivity, construction and engineering, and green renewable technologies, particularly solar.

Although several developed and emerging economies have made similar bounds in science, engineering, computing, and technology, few have matched the pace and the extent of change seen in China over the past decade alone.

China today has the world’s largest internet infrastructure, with the number of users increasing from 564 million to 1.032 billion over the past decade, and a robust digital economy, which has increased in value from 11 trillion yuan ($1.6 trillion) to 45.5 trillion yuan.

China today has the world’s largest internet infrastructure, with the number of users increasing from 564 million to 1.032 billion over the past decade. (AFP)

China’s success is a reflection of its clearly set societal goals, which include attaining and sustaining economic growth, implementing a mass campaign of domestic poverty alleviation, and promoting technological innovation.

Utilizing technology and embracing digital transformation are widely viewed as effective means with which to accelerate economic and social development in an inclusive, dynamic, and cybersecure fashion.

Saudi Arabia has adopted this model, shifting several government and private-sector functions online with a view to providing seamless service delivery, improve end-user experiences, and to foster innovation.

Similarly, after four decades of technological and digital advancement, Chinese consumers have become a hyper-adaptive and hyper-adoptive community, making China one of the world’s most competitive markets on the digital frontier.

In Saudi Arabia, the government has developed a series of five-year plans to replace traditional processes with secure, efficient, and accountable digital platforms to provide high-quality public services, from licensing and permits to welfare and charitable donations.

Saudi Arabia’s projected spending on technology is valued at around $24.7 billion by 2025, the highest in the world, accounting for 21.7 percent of national spending, according to the Digital Government Authority.

This year, China spent 2.44 percent of its gross domestic product, approximately $441 billion, on research and development, and is aiming for 10 percent of its GDP to come from the digital economy by 2025 — up from 7.8 percent in 2020.

Saudi Arabia’s projected spending on technology is valued at around $24.7 billion by 2025. (AFP)

In its own race to become a regional tech hub and global leader in innovation, Saudi Arabia was also set to add nearly $16 billion to its GDP by 2040 through its research and development program.

In September, speaking at the G20 Digital Economy Ministers’ Meeting in Bali, Indonesia, Abdullah Al-Swaha, the Saudi minister of communications and information technology, said investment in these areas was crucial to sustainable economic development.

One of the Kingdom’s goals, outlined in its social reform and economic diversification agenda, Vision 2030, was to become one of the world’s top 10 countries in the Global Competitive Index by the end of the decade, rising from its current position of 24th.

Although China was already Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner, this week’s visit by President Xi Jinping was expected to see a flurry of new deals and strategic partnerships worth $29 billion and a plan to harmonize Vision 2030 with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The Digital Silk Road is the technological arm of the Belt and Road Initiative, which has been forecast to add $255 billion to regional GDP and create 600,000 technology-related jobs across the Gulf Cooperation Council area.

Earlier this year, China issued its 14th five-year plan for the development of the digital economy, setting out proposals to actively engage with the EU, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, African countries, and Belt and Road countries on digital economy policy.

Analysts consider the Middle East and North Africa region a critical commercial link to European and African markets, making Saudi Arabia and its GCC neighbors vital strategic partners for China’s digital expansion.

As Xi arrives in Riyadh, Pakistani experts hope for more investment in CPEC project

Updated 08 December 2022

As Xi arrives in Riyadh, Pakistani experts hope for more investment in CPEC project

  • In 2018, Pakistan’s then ruling party announced Riyadh’s willingness to be part of CPEC as “strategic partner”
  • Experts say CPEC could be a “great convergence point” between Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia

ISLAMABAD: Former ambassadors to Beijing and international experts said on Wednesday Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Saudi Arabia this week was likely to bring in more investment into the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.

Xi arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday for a three-day visit that China has hailed as its largest ever diplomatic foray into the Arab world. The visit comes at a time when Riyadh is seeking to expand global alliances beyond its longstanding partnership with the West.

During the visit, Xi is scheduled to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other heads of states from Gulf Arab states. Saudi Arabia and China are expected to sign over 20 agreements worth more than $29.3 billion and will discuss a plan to harmonize the implementation of Saudi’s Vision 2030 and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Xi’s signature infrastructure investment initiative that includes CPEC.

Under the CPEC project, China has pledged over $60 billion in energy, infrastructure, agriculture, IT and various other schemes in Pakistan. At the heart of the project is a Chinese-funded deep-water port in Pakistan’s southwestern town of Gwadar in Balochistan province.

The CPEC project, Pakistani experts hope, would figure in Xi’s meetings with the Saudi crown prince. In 2018, after then Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Riyadh and meetings with the crown prince, the premier’s ruling party had announced Riyadh’s willingness to be a part of CPEC as a “third strategic partner.”

“Saudi Arabia is interested in becoming part of CPEC by investing heavily in it and is also interested in BRI,” Pakistan’s former ambassador to China, Naghmana Hashmi, told Arab News.

“This visit will improve things in this regard as China is the main initiator of both mega projects.”

“The growing friendship between China and Saudi Arabia will benefit Pakistan as the country has very good relations with both, and both are pillars of strength for us,” Hashmi added.

International relations expert Zafar Jaspal told Arab News the visit would have a “constructive and positive impact” on CPEC.

“[The visit] will open the way for Saudi investment in Gwadar and other parts of the [CPEC] project, especially in the petro industry as the kingdom’s leadership has expressed in the past,” Jaspal said.

International affairs expert Dr. Huma Baqai said an improved relationship between China and Saudi Arabia would help Pakistan “sustain Western pressure.”

“If inroads are made by China into Saudi Arabia, this will help Pakistan in every aspect as the country is squeezed by Western powers and their institutions and this squeeze will ease if there is a better relationship between two friends of Pakistan,” she told Arab News.

CPEC, Baqai said, could be a “great convergence point” between the three countries and “give the requisite push and momentum to intended Saudi investment in the flagship project of the BRI.”

Former ambassador Javed Hafeez, experienced in Middle East affairs, said Saudi Arabia was diversifying its international relations and trying to improve relations with all powers, including China, Russia, the US and other Western countries.

“This policy is exactly the same as Pakistan is following,” he said, “so it is good for us as well and the prospects of expansion of CPEC will also increase.”

President Xi’s 3-day visit aims to boost Saudi-Chinese diplomatic, trade ties

Updated 07 December 2022

President Xi’s 3-day visit aims to boost Saudi-Chinese diplomatic, trade ties

  • Saudi-Chinese Summit, Riyadh Gulf-China Summit and Riyadh Arab-China Summit to take place during visit
  • More than 20 initial agreements between the two countries worth over $29.3 billion to be signed during visit

RIYADH: Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to arrive in the Kingdom on Wednesday for a three-day visit during which he will meet Saudi and Arab leaders.

Three summits will take place during his trip: the Saudi-Chinese Summit, the Riyadh Gulf-China Summit for Cooperation and Development, and the Riyadh Arab-China Summit for Cooperation and Development. The participants will include more than 30 leaders and officials from the two countries and international organizations, highlighting the importance of the gatherings and their high regional and international profile, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Xi’s visit reflects the desire of the leaderships of Saudi Arabia and China to strengthen the bilateral relationship, enhance their strategic partnership and realize the political and economic potential it offers to serve their common interests, the SPA added.

More than 20 initial agreements between the two countries, worth more than SR110 billion ($29.3 billion), will be signed during the presidential visit, along with a strategic partnership deal, and a plan to harmonize the implementation of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 development and diversification project with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the agency said.

Saudi Arabia aims to build a strong strategic partnership with China to support trade and investment. The Kingdom was the biggest recipient of Chinese investment in the Arab World between 2005 and 2020, accounting for more than 20.3 percent of the total regional investment, worth $196.9 billion.

The two countries are preparing to launch the SABIC-Fujian Petrochemical Industrial Group, a joint venture worth an estimated SR22.5 billion, in which SABIC has a 51 percent stake, that includes a high-capacity plant for the production of petrochemical products.

Beyond trade and investment, relations between the two countries have also continued to expand and develop more broadly in recent years, particularly in terms of cultural exchanges.

In 2019, for example, the Saudi Ministry of Culture announced the establishment of the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Award for Cultural Cooperation between Saudi Arabia and China, which will be officially launched during President Xi’s visit. It aims to promote the Arabic language, along with Arab arts, mutual understanding and cultural exchanges, reflecting the Kingdom’s desire to further enhance the cultural aspects of relations.

A number of Saudi universities and schools offer classes in the Chinese language, while Arabic is taught in 44 Chinese universities.

Factbox: Saudi-China energy, trade and investment ties

Updated 07 December 2022

Factbox: Saudi-China energy, trade and investment ties

  • Chinese delegation is expected to sign dozens of agreements with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states
  • China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade worth $87.3 billion in 2021

Saudi Arabia will host a China-Arab summit on Dec. 9 attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, with the leaders of the two countries expected to discuss trade ties and regional security.

Xi’s visit comes at a time when US-Saudi ties are at a nadir, uncertainty weighs on global energy markets with the West imposing a price cap on Russian oil and as Washington warily eyes China’s growing influence in the Middle East.

The Chinese delegation is expected to sign dozens of agreements with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states covering energy, security and investments, diplomats have told Reuters.

Below are some details about oil, trade and security relations between China and Saudi Arabia.


China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade worth $87.3 billion in 2021. Chinese exports to Saudi Arabia reached $30.3 billion, while China’s imports from the kingdom totalled $57 billion.

Saudi Arabia is China’s top oil supplier, making up 18 percent of China’s total crude oil purchases, with imports totalling 73.54 million tons (1.77 million barrels a day) in the first 10 months of 2022, worth $55.5 billion, Chinese customs data shows.

Oil imports last year amounted to 87.56 million tons, worth $43.9 billion, making up 77 percent of China’s total merchandise imports from Saudi Arabia.

State-run Saudi Aramco has annual supply deals with half a dozen Chinese refiners including Sinopec, CNPC, CNOOC, Sinochem, Norinco as well as private refiner Zhejiang Petrochemical Corp.


Aramco in early 2022 made a final investment decision to build a $10 billion refinery, petrochemical complex in northeast China, marking its single largest investment in China.

Named Huajin Aramco Petrochemical Company, the joint venture groups Aramco, Huajin Chemical Industries Group Corporation (000059.SZ) — a unit of defense conglomerate Norinco-- and Panjin Xincheng Industrial Group.

The project, expected to be operational in 2024, combines a 300,000-bpd refinery and 1.5 million tons per year ethylene plant, with Aramco set to supply up to 210,000 bpd crude oil.

Aramco’s only other similar investment in China is a 25 percent stake in Refining and Petrochemical Company Ltd. in Fujian province controlled by state refining giant Sinopec Corp. , which began in 2008 operating a 280,000 bpd refinery and a 1.1 million ton per year (tpy) ethylene complex.

Aramco in October of 2018 signed a memorandum of understanding with Zhejiang provincial government to invest 9 percent in Zhejiang Petrochemical Corp. that operates China’s single-largest refinery of 800,000 bpd. No further progress has been announced since.

Similarly, Sinopec owns 37.5 percent in Yanbu Aramco Sinopec Refining Co. (YASREF), a JV with Aramco that operates a 400,000-bpd refinery in Yanbu on the Red Sea coast.


China’s state-owned Silk Road Fund is part of a consortium led by US-based EIG Global Energy Partners that in mid-2021 closed a deal to buy 49 percent of Saudi Aramco’s oil pipelines business for $12.4 billion.

Silk Road is also part of a consortium led by BlackRock Real Assets and Hassana Investment Company that announced in February completion of a 49 percent stake acquisition in Aramco Gas Pipelines Company for $15.5 billion.


Saudi utility developer ACWA Power, partly owned by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, said in September that it agreed with Silk Road Fund to jointly invest in a 1.5 gigawatt (GW) gas-fueled power plant in Uzbekistan for $1 billion, part of Beijing’s One Belt One Road initiative.

State-run China Energy Engineering Corp. (CEEC) is building a 2.6-GW solar power station in Al Shuaiba in Saudi Arabia, also owned by ACWA Power, the Middle East’s largest solar project.


Saudi Advanced Communications and Electronics Systems Co. (ACES) signed a deal with China Electronics Technology Group to manufacture unmanned aerial vehicle payload systems in the kingdom, Saudi English-language newspapers Arab News and Saudi Gazette reported in March.

The UAE in February said it plans to order 12 L-15 light attack planes from China with the option of purchasing 36 more.