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China unclear on report that President Xi is to visit Saudi Arabia

Person, Human, Tie Creative Commons
Xi has not made any official visit to a foreign country since January 2020

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson told Reuters on Thursday that he had no information to offer at the moment when asked to comment on a media report that President Xi Jinping will visit Saudi Arabia next week.

The Guardian in the UK reported on Thursday that plans are underway in Saudi Arabia for a gala reception for Xi, without saying where it got the information from.

President Xi has not made any official visit to a foreign country since January 2020.

The reports come amid increasingly closer ties between the two countries. New data last month showed that Saudi Arabia has become the biggest recipient of Chinese investment through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The BRI was launched by the Chinese president in October 2013. Over the last nine years a total of $932 billion has been spent developing projects throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America.

While overall BRI spending between January and June this year declined four percent year-on-year to $28.4 billion, the Middle East was the destination for 57 percent of all funding over the period.

Saudi Arabia topped the global rankings with $5.5 billion, according to research by the Shanghai-based Green Finance and Development Center (GFDC).

One of the biggest deals saw China’s state-owned Silk Road Fund become part of an international consortium that bought a 49 percent in Saudi Aramco’s gas pipelines subsidiary for $15.5 billion.

The GCC accounts for around two thirds of China’s imports of crude oil.

Dr Christoph Nedopil Wang, director of the GFDC and author of the report, said China’s stronger engagement in the Middle East, especially in the hydrocarbons sectors, “might also be driven by some of the Western companies’ interest in reducing some of the oil and gas investments in the region, which can be seen as an opportunity for Chinese partners.”

Last week, the Saudi Aramco also announced it had signed an agreement with China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) to develop projects in the kingdom, underscoring the strong investment links between the two countries.

The Memorandum of Understanding covered a number of areas including potential collaborations across upstream and downstream businesses, engineering and construction, oilfield services, carbon capture and hydrogen, Aramco said.

It also outlined the possibility of Sinopec establishing a local manufacturing hub in King Salman Energy Park.