20221208 xi jinping riyadh
Xi Jinping is received by officials including the Governor of Riyadh province Prince Faisal Bin Bandar Al Saud at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh. Image Credit: AFP

Riyadh:  President Xi Jinping arrived in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh on Wednesday, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported.

The three-day trip is Xi's third overseas journey since the coronavirus pandemic began, and his first to Saudi Arabia since 2016.

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Xi will take part in a regional summit with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and other Arab leaders, the kingdom’s SPA state news agency said.

Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman said on Wednesday that Saudi Arabia would remain a trusted and reliable energy partner for China, state news agency SPA reported.

Prince Abdul Aziz told SPA that cooperation between China, the world's biggest energy consumer, and the kingdom, the worlds' top oil exporter, had helped maintain global oil market stability.

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"The kingdom will remain, in this area, a trusted and reliable partner for China," the agency quoted him as saying.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, shakes hands with Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz
Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, shakes hands with Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Riyadh, after his arrival in Riyadh, on Wednesday, December 7, 2022. Image Credit: AP

He said Saudi Arabia and China would seek to boost cooperation in energy supply chains by establishing a regional centre in the Gulf Arab state for Chinese factories.

Energy and infrastructure deals will top the agenda, according to two people briefed on the plans. More than 20 initial agreements worth SR110 billion ($29.26 billion) will be signed during Xi’s visit, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Tuesday.

“This visit is the culmination or crowning of a deep strengthening in relations over the last few years,” said Ali Shihabi, a Saudi commentator and advisory board member for the kingdom’s Neom megaproject.

“The US is concerned about this but cannot slow this already strong relationship down.”

Epoch-making milestone in the history of China-Arab relations
Xi will attend the inaugural China-Arab States Summit and a meeting with leaders of the six nations that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. His state visit to Saudi Arabia will end on Saturday.
Xi’s attendance at the China-Arab States Summit marks the “largest and highest-level diplomatic event between China and the Arab world since the founding of the People’s Republic of China and will become an epoch-making milestone in the history of China-Arab relations,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told reporters at a daily briefing on Wednesday.
Mao said China hopes the summit will set a future agenda for relations between the sides and “help build more strategic common understandings on major regional and international issues ... and defend multilateralism.”
Chinese companies have become major players in Saudi Arabia’s move to upgrade its infrastructure, among them construction firms and the telecoms giant Huawei.
“The Saudi visit will allow Xi to be the center of attention and regional leaders will be receptive to the Chinese perspective,” Eurasia Group said in its report.

A low point in US-Saudi ties came in October when Biden accused Riyadh of allying with Russia on oil production cuts, and vowed “consequences.” However, relations have been fraying for some time as the US shifts its global focus to the competition with China.

US-Saudi trade shrinks from $76b in 2012 to $29b last year

It’s a decade since the US was Riyadh’s biggest trading partner, and in that time not only has China leapfrogged America, but so too have India and Japan. Total US-Saudi trade shrank from some $76 billion in 2012 to $29 billion last year.

Talks on a free trade agreement between China and the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council are entering a “final stage,” China’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates Zhang Yiming said last month.

“There’s a real synergy to the relationship,” said Jonathan Fulton, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council focused on China’s relations with the Gulf.

Whereas “the US keeps talking about a great power game” and focusing on counterterrorism, China has been helping address domestic concerns.

Since China held its last biennial dialog with Arab states in July 2020, Saudi Aramco revived discussions to build a multi-billion dollar refining and petrochemicals complex in China.

Saudi Arabia started working with Huawei to develop artificial intelligence systems and the kingdom’s using Chinese expertise to make its own drones. It’s even been reported to be manufacturing ballistic missiles with China’s help, according to a US intelligence assessment.