This week, Saudi Arabia's King Salman will pay a three-day visit to China's President Xi Jinping as Riyadh strengthens its political and commercial relations with Beijing.
Tuesday's announcement by King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud inviting Xi to visit the country from December 7 to 9 was made official by the Saudi Press Agency. Three summits—one Saudi-Chinese, one Arab-Chinese, and one GCC-Chinese—are being held in Riyadh in conjunction with the visit.
King Salman, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), and other Saudi delegations will speak with Xi about China's Belt and Road global infrastructure program and Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 economic development plan. According to the Saudi Press Agency, preliminary agreements worth more than $29 billion will be signed between Saudi Arabia and China.
The article said that the GCC and Arab leaders will likely attend the regional meetings. Local media claimed that the president of Tunisia, Kais Saied, will go to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to take part in the discussions, but other GCC and Arab leaders did not immediately confirm their participation.
Why it's important China and Saudi Arabia now have far stronger ties than they had a few years ago. Saudi Arabia's main commercial partner is China, and Saudi Arabia participates in China's Belt and Road global infrastructure program.
In recent years, there have been a few important encounters between Chinese and Saudi officials. The monarch visited Beijing in 2017, while Xi traveled to Saudi Arabia in 2016. MBS visited China in 2019 and sealed a $10 billion petrochemical agreement there.
Energy cooperation between China and Saudi Arabia has strengthened significantly this year. Aramco, the state-owned oil corporation of Saudi Arabia, and Sinopec, its Chinese equivalent, struck a deal on oil, carbon capture, and hydrogen in August. In March, Aramco also completed an agreement to build a sizable refinery complex in China. Saudi Arabia has also been discussing pricing oil deliveries to China in yuan, as opposed to US dollars.
According to The Financial Times, Xi's visit may see the signing of a nuclear power agreement between China and Saudi Arabia.
Numerous foreign media sites have framed Xi's impending trip to Saudi Arabia as a message and a show of force to the US administration, whose own ties with Riyadh have deteriorated recently. US President Joe Biden promised that the US will not hand up influence to China in the Middle East during his own trip to Riyadh in July.
There have been numerous changes in Saudi-China relations in the lead-up to Xi's visit. In October, the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi met with the Saudi foreign minister Faisal bin Farhan. With reference to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the detention of Chinese Muslims in the Xinjiang region, Wang thanked Saudi Arabia for its support of China on political matters.
The envoy also commended Riyadh for its "efforts to preserve stability in the world energy market," according to a statement from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Arab-China Media Cooperation Forum was launched in Riyadh on Monday by Majed bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, acting minister of Saudi Arabian media.
A study applauding the contributions made by Chinese companies to Saudi Arabia was published last week by the Contact Office of Chinese Companies in Saudi Arabia. According to Xinhua, the study notably identified the communications, electrical, public transit, and healthcare sectors.
Also last week, the Riyadh-based Center for Research and Knowledge Communication and the China-Arab Studies Center for Reform and Development in Shanghai produced a book documenting "Sino-Arab collaboration."
President Joe Biden, who is staying alert to China's power in the area, will find the visit challenging. During his visit to Saudi Arabia in July of last year, the US President said, "We will not withdraw and let China, Russia, or Iran fill the void."
However, China sees an opportunity to strengthen its commercial and political relationships in the Gulf area, notably with Iran, as relations between Washington and Riyadh get heated over oil supply and Russia.
Al-Monitor asked the Chinese Embassy in Riyadh for a statement, but they did not provide one.