RIYADH • Beijing has signalled its support for Yemen's government, which is fighting an Iran-allied militia, on the first day of a visit to Riyadh by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who will also be heading to Teheran later in the week.
A Saudi-led coalition began a military campaign last year against the Iranian-allied Shi'ite Houthi movement in Yemen, which has seized the capital, Sanaa. The government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi is now based in the southern city of Aden.
Saudi Arabia and China said in a statement that they affirmed their support for the unity, independence and sovereignty of Yemen. The statement was released yesterday by China's Foreign Ministry, after Mr Xi met Saudi King Salman Abdulaziz the day before.
All social, religious and political groups in Yemen should maintain their national solidarity and avoid any decisions that may cause social disruption and chaos, it said.
"Both sides stressed support for the legitimate regime of Yemen," the statement said.
Saudi Arabia sees the Houthis as a proxy for bitter regional rival Iran to expand its influence in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula nation. The Houthis deny this and say they are waging a revolution against a corrupt government and Gulf powers beholden to the West.
China relies on the region for oil but has tended to leave Middle Eastern diplomacy to the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council.
A growing diplomatic dispute between Riyadh and Teheran, triggered by mainly Sunni Saudi Arabia's execution of a prominent Shi'ite cleric, has damaged the outlook for any resolution to the conflict in Yemen.
Mr Xi is expected in Iran later in the week, with a further stop in Egypt after he leaves Saudi Arabia.
On Tuesday, state television showed Mr Xi meeting KingSalman, and the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said themonarch held a lunch banquet in his honour.
The two sides signed 14 agreements and memoranda of understanding, many of them on economic issues. One dealt with establishing a mechanism for consultations on fighting "terrorism" while another foresaw cooperation on building a nuclear reactor, the SPA said.
"Since China and Saudi Arabia forged diplomatic ties 26 years ago, our relationship has developed by leaps and bounds, with mutual political trust deepening continuously and rich results in cooperation in various fields," Mr Xi said in remarks, cited by China's official Xinhua news agency.
China relies on the region for oil but has tended to leave Middle Eastern diplomacy to the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council - the United States, Britain, France and Russia.
But China has been trying to get more involved - especially in Syria which has been fighting a nearly five-year war in which more than 260,000 people have died - and recently hosted its foreign minister and opposition officials.
China and Saudi Arabia also expressed deep concern about Syria, and renewed a call for apeaceful political settlement as soon as possible.
A Chinese president has not visited Saudi Arabia since the 2009 visit of Mr Hu Jintao. Mr Jiang Zemin was the last Chinese president to visit Iran, in 2002.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE