Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Saudi Arabia by the end of this year as the world’s top oil importer and the top oil exporter strengthen energy and strategic ties while U.S.-Saudi relations are at a historically low level.
China’s Xi is set to meet with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a visit to the Kingdom expected to take place this month or next, sources with knowledge of the preparations for the official visit told The Wall Street Journal on Monday.
China – the world’s largest importer of oil and a major customer of Saudi Arabian crude – and the Kingdom have deepened ties in recent years, including in the energy sector.
Last month, Saudi Arabia and China jointly stressed the importance of stable long-term crude supply to the market. Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, and Zhang Jianhua, the director of China’s National Energy Administration (NEA), have also agreed to continue cooperation in their efforts to keep the global crude oil market stable, according to the Saudi Press Agency.
Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia at a time of major turmoil in the oil market and geopolitics with the Russian invasion of Ukraine signals China’s intention to increase its influence in the Middle East, where the U.S. was, until recently, the world superpower with the biggest influence. The Chinese president’s visit also suggests that Saudi Arabia considers its relationship with China one of strategic importance.
While the Chinese and the Saudis are strengthening their relations, U.S.-Saudi relations are at a low point, especially after the U.S. Administration slammed Saudi Arabia and the OPEC+ group for what it described as a “short-sighted” and “misguided” decision to reduce their target oil production by 2 million barrels per day (bpd) as of this month.
Since the U.S. started criticizing the OPEC+ move, multiple OPEC+ producers, including Saudi Arabia, have defended the group’s decision to reduce production, saying it was dictated by technical analysis and had no political intentions whatsoever.