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China, Arab nations to hold milestone summit in Saudi Arabia

November 25, 2022

ISLAMABAD: China and Arab nations will hold a milestone summit in Saudi Arabia early next month, setting up the possibility of Chinese President Xi Jinping visiting the kingdom for the first time in seven years.

Pakistan will keenly observe the development since it is viewed as backyard of the Middle East and closest ally of neighbouring China. Highly placed diplomatic sources told The News here Thursday that the summit would greatly help in expanding Chinese clout in the region that has already launched Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) conceived by President Xi and interestingly China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is flagship project of the initiative.

President Xi is expected to visit Saudi Arabia that same month, it hasn’t been specified whether the trip will coincide with the summit. An Emirati newspaper has reported that the summit would involve face-to-face exchanges between leaders from China and Arab nations.

The summit comes in the backdrop of Riyadh and other Gulf countries shoring up links with Asian markets amid strained ties between Saudi Arabia and its long-standing ally, the United States, after the OPEC+ cartel slashed oil production, ignoring pleas from Washington. The US blasted the decision to cut output as being akin to “aligning with Russia” in its war on Ukraine, and warned of unspecified “consequences”.

President Xi is likely to use the visit to bolster ties given that his last trip was in January 2016. Saudi Arabia was China’s largest source of foreign oil ahead of Russia in October, according to customs data from the world’s second-biggest economy. Reports appeared in March that China and Saudi Arabia were again in talks to settle oil deals in yuan, a topic the two nations have discussed for six years. That change would undercut the dollar, which has long been the default currency for pricing energy contracts around the world.

President Xi told Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman during a phone call in April that Beijing “puts a priority” on deepening ties with Riyadh, and wants “high-level” cooperation on energy, trade and high-tech industries.

Earlier this year, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Zhai Jun, ambassador and special envoy of the Chinese government in the Middle East, discussed various issues, including cooperation between the Arab world and China.

The next OPEC+ meeting will be held on December 4, which will likely put global disputes over energy supplies back in the spotlight. A Chinese diplomat has pointed out that the relations between China and Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have entered a fast track of development. He called the summit talks a “milestone in the history of China-Arab relations”.

Earlier this month, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman embarked on a multi-stop Asian tour that included Indonesia, South Korea and Thailand. For the past decade, Asia has been the top export market for Saudi crude, particularly China, Japan, South Korea and India.