Xi Jinping Arrives in Saudi Arabia for Energy Visit

Chinese President Xi Jinping landed in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday for a visit likely to focus on energy ties but also follows months of tension with the United States.

Xi, recently re-appointed leader of the world’s second largest economy, has arrived in the capital Riyadh, Chinese and Saudi state media reported, for a three-day visit that will include talks with Saudi rulers and other Arab leaders.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and Riyadh Governor Prince Faisal bin Bandar were among those who greeted Xi at the airport, where a ceremonial purple carpet was laid down from the plane’s steps.

On the main roads of Riyadh, the red and gold flag of China alternated with the green coat of arms of Saudi Arabia.

China is a major buyer of oil from Saudi Arabia, a leading exporter of crude oil, and both sides appear keen to expand their relationship during a time of economic turmoil and geopolitical adjustment.

The trip – only Xi’s third overseas trip since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and his first trip to Saudi Arabia since 2016 – came after US President Joe Biden’s visit in July, when he pleaded in vain for more oil production.

It will host bilateral meetings with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler, as well as a six-member Gulf Cooperation Council summit and a broader Sino-Arab summit.

A picture taken December 7, 2022 in Riyadh shows Chinese and Saudi Arabian flags adorning the street ahead of the Chinese President’s visit to the Saudi capital. This week Chinese President Xi Jinping will make a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he will meet the king and de facto ruler of the world’s largest oil exporter. (Photo by Fayez Nureldin/AFP)

– Oil Markets –

The program represents “a large-scale diplomatic activity between China and the Arab world since the founding of the PRC,” or the People’s Republic of China, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Wednesday.

The official Saudi press agency said the kingdom accounted for more than 20 percent of Chinese investment in the Arab world between 2005 and 2020, “making it the largest Arab country to receive Chinese investment during this period.”

Oil markets are expected to be a top item on the agenda of talks between China and Saudi Arabia, especially given the turbulence the markets have experienced since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

The G7 and the European Union agreed on Friday to cap Russian oil prices at $60 a barrel in an attempt to deprive the Kremlin of military resources, further adding to market uncertainty.

On Sunday, the OPEC+ oil cartel, led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, decided to uphold the two million bpd production cuts it approved in October.

Saudi Arabian and Chinese officials have provided scant information about the agenda, although Ali Shihabi, a Saudi analyst close to the government, said he expects “a number of agreements to be signed.”

Beyond energy, analysts say the two leaders are likely to discuss potential deals that could see Chinese firms more involved in mega-projects that are central to Prince Mohammed’s vision of diversifying the Saudi economy away from oil.

Among them is the $500 billion futuristic metropolis known as NEOM, a so-called cognitive city that will rely heavily on facial recognition and surveillance technology.

– Tensions with Washington –

The OPEC+ production cut, approved in October, was the latest blow to a long-term partnership between Saudi Arabia and the United States, which they say is tantamount to “joining Russia” in the war in Ukraine.

Xi’s visit is expected to be closely watched in Washington, which at the end of World War II entered into what is often described as an oil-for-security partnership with Saudi Arabia.

While the Biden administration fretted over production cuts, Riyadh has occasionally blamed the United States for failing to deliver on the security side of the deal, especially after the September 2019 strikes claimed by Yemeni rebels. the Houthis, who temporarily halved the production of crude oil in the kingdom.

China and Saudi Arabia are already cooperating in the sale and production of weapons.

However, analysts say Beijing cannot provide the same security guarantees as Washington, or whoever wants it.

However, if the Saudis are “hoping to get more security assurances from the US … the signal that they have the opportunity to strengthen ties with China is something that suits them,” said Thorbjorn Soltvedt of risk analysis firm Verisk Maplecroft. .

The GCC-China summit will be held on Friday in Riyadh, the bloc said in a statement.