Chinese President Xi Jinping is on a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia this week, during which he will meet the king and de facto ruler of the world‘s largest oil exporter.
The Chinese leader will arrive on Wednesday, Dec. 7, on his third trip abroad since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and his first trip to Saudi Arabia since 2016.
On Tuesday, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said the visit was at the invitation of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman “to strengthen the historical relationship and strategic partnership between the two countries”.
Preliminary agreements worth $29.26 billion will be signed during the bilateral summit, the news agency said.
China‘s foreign ministry issued a brief statement Wednesday morning confirming the visit. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that President Xi Jinping will pay a state visit to Saudi Arabia and attend the first China-Arab States Summit and the China-GCC Summit in Riyadh.
The Global Times, a Chinese state-run tabloid, described the China-Arab summit as a “milestone in the history of China-Arab relations” in an editorial. According to the paper, the region has a “common desire” to avoid political instability and achieve stable growth after the “severe shock” of the “Arab Spring” and is “very interested in China‘s experience”.
“A Deeper Relationship”
The summit with Saudi Arabia is chaired by King Salman of Saudi Arabia and will also be attended by the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It follows Xi Jinping’s third term as president in October.
China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner, and Crown Prince Salman is expected to entertain Xi when he arrives in Riyadh on Wednesday. This is in stark contrast to the cold treatment received by US President Biden in July.
Ali Shihabi, a Saudi Arabian analyst close to the government, said the visit reflected a “deeper relationship that has developed in recent years” between the two countries.
“As the largest importer of Saudi oil, China is a vital partner. In addition, military relations have been developing strongly,” he said, adding that he expected “a series of agreements to be signed.”
Crown Prince Salman held talks in Beijing in 2019 that focused on energy deals and regional economic agreements in line with Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, Xi’s global infrastructure project.
The visit comes amid heightened tensions between Saudi Arabia and the United States over issues ranging from energy policy to regional security and human rights.
The latest clash in the decades-long partnership took place in October. At that time, the “OPEC+” oil group agreed to cut production by 2 million barrels per day, and the White House said the move amounted to “alliance with Russia” in the Ukraine war.
On Sunday, December 4th, “OPEC+” decided to maintain these production cuts.
Shihabi believes that the timing is “very coincidental and not against the United States.”
no longer left out
China sees Saudi Arabia as its key ally in the Middle East not only because of its importance as an oil supplier but also because of its shared suspicion of Western countries, especially on issues such as human rights.
China buys about a quarter of Saudi Arabia’s oil exports.
Oil markets have been thrown into turmoil by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
The Group of Seven and the European Union agreed on Friday to impose a $60-a-barrel price cap on Russian oil in an attempt to deprive the Kremlin of the revenue it uses to sustain the war. This further fuels uncertainty.
Torbjorn Soltvedt of risk forecasting firm Verisk Maplecroft believes: “Oil is likely to be higher on the agenda than when Biden visits.”
“Because these are the two most important players in the oil market, Saudi Arabia on the supply side and China on the demand side.”
Beyond energy, analysts said the leaders of the two countries are expected to discuss some potential deals. The deals are likely to see Chinese companies get more deeply involved in the mega-projects that are at the heart of the crown prince’s vision to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy.
These projects include the New Future City (NEOM), a $500 billion future megacity. It’s a so-called “cognitive” city that will rely heavily on facial recognition and surveillance technology.