China sees ‘enormous potential’ in Saudi economy as crown prince visits

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi says he sees “enormous potential” in Saudi Arabia’s economy and wants more high-tech cooperation. (AFP)
Updated 22 February 2019

China sees ‘enormous potential’ in Saudi economy as crown prince visits

  • China supports Saudi Arabia’s efforts to diversify its economy and is willing to strengthen high-tech cooperation, State Councillor Wang Yi said
  • Saudi Aramco is set to sign a pact to build a refinery and petrochemical project in Liaoning province in a joint venture with China’s Norinco

BEIJING: China sees “enormous potential” in Saudi Arabia’s economy and wants more high-tech cooperation, the Chinese government’s top diplomat said, as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began a two-day trip to Beijing.
The Saudi delegation, including top executives from Saudi Aramco, arrived on Thursday on an Asia tour that has already seen the kingdom pledge investment of $20 billion in Pakistan and seek additional investment in India’s refining industry.
The crown prince will meet President Xi Jinping, who has made stepping up China’s presence in the Middle East a key foreign policy objective, despite its traditional low-key role there.
Meeting Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, State Councillor Wang Yi said the main features of their ties were respect, understanding and support for each other, China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement late on Thursday.
“All countries in the world have the right to develop, and Saudi Arabia is an emerging market country with enormous potential,” the ministry paraphrased Wang as saying.
China supports Saudi Arabia’s efforts to diversify its economy and is willing to strengthen high-tech cooperation, Wang added.
Saudi Aramco, the world’s top oil exporter, will sign a pact to build a refinery and petrochemical project in northeastern Liaoning province in a joint venture with China’s defense conglomerate Norinco, three sources with knowledge of the matter said.
The investments could help Saudi Arabia regain its place as the top oil exporter to China, a position Russia has held for the last three years. Saudi Aramco is set to boost market share by signing supply deals with non-state Chinese refiners.
China has had to step carefully in relations with Riyadh, since Beijing also has close ties with Iran.
On Wednesday, Xi told the speaker of Iran’s parliament that China’s desire to develop close ties with Iran would stay unaltered, regardless of the global situation.
China is also wary of criticism from Muslim countries about its camps in the heavily Muslim far western region of Xinjiang, which the government says are for de-radicalization purposes and rights groups call internment camps.
Wang said both countries face the threats of terrorism and extremism, and should strengthen cooperation to safeguard security and stability.
China was not seeking to play politics in the Middle East, the widely-read state-run tabloid, the Global Times, said in an editorial on Friday.
“China won’t be a geopolitical player in the Middle East. It has no enemies and can cooperate with all countries in the region,” said the paper, published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily.
“China’s increasing influence in the Middle East comes from pure friendly cooperation. Such a partnership will be welcomed by more countries in the Middle East.”

 

 


Afghan pomegranate growers squeezed as prices drop

Updated 31 min 38 sec ago

Afghan pomegranate growers squeezed as prices drop

  • Renowned for its reputed health benefits, the pomegranate is a point of pride for Afghan farmers
  • In Kandahar province, the prized crimson fruit could grow to the size of small melons

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: Pomegranate farmers in southern Afghanistan — where growing the juicy fruit is an important alternative to opium poppy production — say they are feeling the squeeze this year, with business blemished by chilly weather, pests and export woes.

The prized crimson fruit, globally renowned for its reputed health benefits, is a point of pride for Afghan farmers, particularly in Kandahar province, where luscious pomegranates the size of small melons dangle from trees.

Every autumn, Afghans start drinking pomegranate juice as the fruit bursts into season. Vendors pile carts high with gravity-defying pomegranate pyramids and offer fresh-squeezed beverages.

Haji Abdul Manan, who has been growing fruit in southern Kandahar for about 30 years, said a springtime cold snap damaged pomegranate flowers, impacting about 40 percent of his crop.

Problems also came from “lice, flies and a fungal disease,” he added, likening a type of greenfly to a natural disaster that had ruined more than 100 of the orb-shaped fruits daily.

“It is the duty of the Afghan government to spray all the gardens in Kandahar and to protect the pomegranates from diseases, but the government is not doing anything,” Manan complained.

Apart from its sweet flavor, fans point to pomegranates’ purported health benefits including high levels of vitamin C and antioxidants that are said to help protect the body.

“Kandahar’s pomegranates are the world’s best for flavor, color, and several times Kandahar’s pomegranates came first in competitions abroad,” Nasrullah Zaheer, the head of Kandahar’s chamber of commerce, told AFP.

In Kandahar, a medium-sized pomegranate goes for the equivalent of about 15 US cents, but by the time the fruit reach Kabul they cost about three times that.

Zaheer and several other farmers claimed Pakistan has this year imposed hefty tariffs on pomegranate imports, which, despite a drop in yield in some parts of Afghanistan, has led to an oversupply in the domestic market and sharp price drops.

But the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul denied such a drastic measure had been taken, saying Pakistan had raised duties only slightly because “Afghan exporters consistently understate the value of pomegranates and fruits.”

Muhammad Hafeez, a fruit and vegetable seller at a market in Islamabad, said the pomegranate supply from Kandahar had not been impacted.

“The supply is in bulk and the quality is good,” Hafeez told AFP.

Abdul Baqi Beena, deputy director of the Kandahar chamber of commerce, said about 40,000 to 50,000 tons of pomegranates were exported annually, including to India, Pakistan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

For years, Afghanistan and international donors tried to wean farmers from growing opium poppies by encouraging alternatives such as fruit crops.

But those efforts often failed as drug smugglers offered lucrative prices that normally far exceed the income from traditional agriculture.

The US Agency for International Development previously supported the farming of high-value crops, including pomegranates, as an alternative to opium production, but in recent years has shifted its focus to helping build export markets and supporting Afghan farmers that way.

“There is strong regional demand for high-value Afghan products that generate sufficient profit to justify export cost,” Daniel Corle, USAID team lead for development outreach and communications, said in an email.

“These include pomegranates, pine nuts, apricots, spices, gems, marble, and carpets, among others.”