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Xi Jinping visits Saudi Arabia to meet Arab leaders

Robbie Corey-Boulet

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives Wednesday (7) in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, for meetings with leaders in the region amid a crisis linked to the war in Ukraine.

Chinese and Saudi flags waved on the avenues of the capital Riyadh, while Xi Jinping’s picture dominated the front pages of Saudi newspapers, highlighting the potential economic benefits of the visit.

The Asian giant and the Gulf country, its main oil supplier, appear to want closer relations against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and geopolitical realignment.

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This is Xi Jinping’s third trip abroad since the onset of the covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and the first to the oil monarchy since 2016.

Bilateral meetings are scheduled during the three-day trip with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, de facto ruler of the kingdom, in addition to a summit on Friday with the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and another with Arab leaders.

Xi Jinping, President of China, and Salman bin Abdulaziz, King of Saudi Arabia, in 2017

Energy is expected to dominate discussions between the world’s largest exporter of crude oil and China, the world’s largest importer.

The G7 and the European Union last Friday introduced a ceiling on the price of Russian oil for export – at $60 a barrel – with the aim of depriving Moscow of the means to finance its war in Ukraine, creating new uncertainties in the global market.

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On Sunday, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, led by Saudi Arabia, and its allies, led by Russia (OPEC+) agreed to maintain the course decided in October of a reduction of two million barrels per day by the end of 2023.

The agenda of the visit was not disclosed, but Ali Shihabi, a Saudi analyst close to the government, said he expects “several agreements to be signed.”

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Muhammad bin Salman Al Saud and Xi Jinping

In addition to energy, discussions may focus on Chinese companies’ involvement in megaprojects, which include a $500 billion futuristic city called NEOM.

Read also: Xi Jinping points to “broad prospects” in China-Russia friendship:

According to the Saudi news agency SPA, Saudi Arabia has attracted more than 20 percent of Chinese investments in the Arab world between 2002 and 2020.

For his part, the secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Nayef al-Hajraf, stressed the importance of Friday’s summit with the six countries of the bloc, saying he wants to “strengthen cooperation” in the areas of economy, development and trade, among others.

Xi Jinping’s visit will no doubt be closely watched by the United States, an important ally of the Gulf countries, in particular Saudi Arabia.

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The partnership between the two countries, often described as an “oil-for-security” agreement, was sealed after World War II.

However, the production reduction decided in October by OPEC+ has angered Washington, which has denounced an “alignment with Russia.”

But even if Saudi Arabia cooperates with China in arms sales and production, Beijing cannot provide the same security guarantees as Washington, according to analysts.

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