Chinese flags wave in the Saudi capital prior to Xi’s visit.

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By Creative Media News

The Saudi capital was festooned with Chinese banners in advance of President Xi Jinping’s Wednesday visit, which is expected to focus on energy ties but also follows months of tensions with the United States.

Along main roadways in Riyadh, the red-and-gold Chinese insignia alternated with the green flag of Saudi Arabia, while Xi was featured on the front pages of publications that stressed the possible economic benefits of the trip.

China, the second-largest economy in the world, is Saudi Arabia’s largest consumer of crude oil, and both sides appear eager to strengthen their partnership during a period of economic turbulence and geopolitical reorientation.

Chinese flags wave in the saudi capital prior to xi's visit.
Chinese flags wave in the saudi capital prior to xi's visit.

The three-day trip is just Xi’s third abroad tour since the coronavirus outbreak began, and his first to Saudi Arabia since 2016; it follows US President Joe Biden’s unsuccessful request for more oil production during his July visit.

It will include bilateral discussions with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler, in addition to a summit with the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council and a larger China-Arab summit.

The program represents the “largest-scale diplomatic effort between China and the Arab world since the formation of the PRC,” according to Mao Ning, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry.

Between 2005 and 2020, the official Saudi Press Agency reported that the kingdom accounted for more than 20 percent of Chinese investment in the Arab world, “making it the largest Arab country to receive Chinese investments during that period.”

Considering the volatility of oil prices since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, oil markets are anticipated to be a leading topic of discussion between China and Saudi Arabia.

Saudi capital prior to xis visit
Chinese flags wave in the saudi capital prior to xi's visit.

To deny the Kremlin war resources, the G7 and European Union decided on Friday to cap the price of Russian oil at $60 per barrel, throwing further uncertainty into the markets.

On Sunday, the Opec+ oil cartel, jointly chaired by Saudi Arabia and Russia, decided to maintain the October production restrictions of two million barrels per day.

Saudi and Chinese officials have released limited details about the agenda, but a government-affiliated Saudi expert, Ali Shihabi, expects “several agreements to be completed.”

Beyond energy, analysts predict that officials from the two nations would likely discuss prospective deals that might involve Chinese corporations in megaprojects essential to Prince Mohammed’s plan to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil.

Included among them is the futuristic $500 billion megacity known as Neom, a so-called cognitive city that will rely largely on facial recognition and monitoring technology.

Tensions with the U.S.

The Opec+ production cuts imposed in October were the latest blow to the longstanding cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the United States, with the latter claiming that the cuts amounted to “aligning with Russia” in the Ukraine conflict.

After World War II, the United States embarked on a cooperation with Saudi Arabia that is commonly referred to as an oil-for-security arrangement.

While the Biden administration lamented the production restrictions, Riyadh has at times accused the United States of failing to uphold its security obligations, most notably after Yemen’s Huthi rebels temporarily curtailed the kingdom’s petroleum output in September 2019.

Already, China and Saudi Arabia collaborate on arms sales and production. Analysts assert that Beijing cannot offer the same level of security assurances as the United States, nor does it desire to.

Nonetheless, if the Saudis are “trying to wring greater security guarantees from the United States, […] signaling that they have the chance to deepen ties with China would serve them well,” according to Torbjorn Soltvedt of the risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft.

Friday will see the GCC-China summit take place in Riyadh, according to a statement from the group.

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