Chinese President Xi Jinping will arrive in Saudi Arabia for a state visit amid high tensions between the United States and the two countries, reported the Saudi Official Press Agency (SPA).
Xi’s trip to Riyadh begins on Wednesday and will include a “Saudi-Chinese summit”, a Chinese-Arab summit and a China-GCC summit, according to SPA, which said “development and economic cooperation prospects will be discussed”.
At least 14 Arab heads of state are expected to attend the China-Arab summit, according to an Arab diplomatic source who described the trip to CNN as a “milestone” for Arab-Chinese relations.
After the announcement, SPA published a “historical account” of Saudi-Chinese relations, noting that the close ties between the two states span eight long decades.
Rumors of a Chinese presidential visit to America’s biggest ally in the Middle East have been circulating for months. On Wednesday, China’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the visit, which it said would last from Wednesday to Saturday.
Last week, the Saudi government sent registration forms to journalists to cover the summit, without confirming the exact dates. The Saudi government declined to respond to CNN’s request for information about Xi’s visit and planned summits.
Reports of the long-awaited visit come against the backdrop of a series of disagreements the United States has maintained with both Beijing and Riyadh, which to Washington’s dismay have only strengthened ties in recent years.
The United States and Saudi Arabia are still embroiled in a heated dispute over oil production, which culminated in strong rhetoric and trade accusations in October when the Saudi-led oil cartel OPEC+ cut production production by two million barrels per day in an effort to “stabilize” prices.. The decision was made despite the strong American campaign against it.
Saudi Arabia, a strong U.S. ally for eight long decades, has been embittered by what it sees as a declining U.S. security presence in the region, especially amid growing threats from Iran and the their armed Yemeni representatives.
An economic behemoth in the east, China has been at odds with the United States over Taiwan, which US President Joe Biden has repeatedly vowed to protect if China attacks. The thorny issue has seriously aggravated a precarious relationship between Washington and Beijing, which are already competing for influence in the volatile Middle East.
While US allies in the Arab Gulf accuse Washington of falling behind on its security guarantees in the region, China has been strengthening its ties with the Gulf monarchies, as well as with US enemies Iran and Russia.
Both China and Saudi Arabia have also taken different stances towards the West regarding the war in Ukraine. Both have refrained from approving sanctions on Russia, and Riyadh has repeatedly maintained that Moscow is a key energy-producing partner that needs to be consulted on OPEC+ decisions. After last month’s massive oil cut, some US officials have accused Saudi Arabia of siding with Russia and helping President Vladimir Putin with his war against Ukraine.
Saudi officials have denied that it is weapons oil or Russia’s advance.
Biden said in October that the US needed to “rethink” its relationship with Saudi Arabia, which the president appeared to have tried to repair in a July visit to Riyadh. After vowing to make the kingdom a “pariah” and condemning Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Biden flew to Riyadh amid global oil shortages and greeted Bin Salman with a fist bump that made global headlines.
However, the ultimately cold visit produced no increase in oil production and only exacerbated tensions.