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Saudi Arabia, China sign deals on tech, climate for Xi’s visit

The trip is a sign that Saudi Arabia is seeking more cooperation with China, especially in regards to energy and despite the kingdom’s relationship with the United States.
Xi Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia and China signed a number of agreements on Wednesday at the outset of President Xi Jinping’s visit to the kingdom. 

Xi arrived in Riyadh Wednesday for a three-day visit, and was greeted by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan at Riyadh's airport. He was expected to meet Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, then participate in two summits with Gulf and Arab states. 

The Chinese leader praised Sino-Saudi ties noting that two countries have signed a strategic partnership in 2016 based on "continued mutual trust." Since then, bilateral relations have contributed to "peace, stability, prosperity and development in the region," he said according to the Saudi news outlet Al-Arabiya. 

Farhan said that Saudi-Chinese economic relations are progressing at an "accelerated pace." 

The following is a list of agreements and other developments from the first day of Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia, according to the official Saudi Press Agency:

  • The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese investment firm Sinovation Ventures. The two will explore opportunities for technology collaboration related to artificial intelligence applications that use Arabic, jobs in technology, and investment. 
  • Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Vegetation Cover Development and Combating Desertification signed an agreement with the Chinese company Elion on afforestation, or growing trees where they previously did not grow. Afforestation is meant to help reverse desertification, which is rising in the Middle East. 
  • Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz told the agency that the kingdom wants to boost energy ties with China. He specifically mentioned oil, renewable energy, hydrogen, electricity projects and nuclear energy. 
  • The head of the Council of Saudi Chambers, Ajlan bin Abdulaziz Al-Ajlan, endorsed “harmonizing” Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 economic diversification strategy and China’s Belt and Road global infrastructure initiative. 
  • A delegation of 24 Chinese economists attended a camel festival in Riyadh.

Why it matters: The agreements thus far are in line with both Saudi Arabia's and China’s strategic objectives. Saudi Arabia is looking to boost its AI sector and also invest in more green technology. The King Abdullah University announced plans for a new AI center in September, and the Saudi Public Investment Fund recently launched an electrical vehicle company, Ceer

China is also seeking to expand the Belt and Road initiative in the Middle East. Syria joined the Belt and Road in January, and Saudi Arabia is also a member. 

Saudi Arabia is already China’s largest crude oil supplier, and the two countries want to cooperate even more on energy as a whole. In August, Saudi Aramco and China’s Sinopec signed a cooperation deal on oil, hydrogen and carbon capture. 

Xi’s trip is also the latest example of Saudi Arabia, a key US partner in the region, pivoting more towards China, as Salim A. Essaid reported for Al-Monitor Wednesday. 

China is also Saudi Arabia’s largest trade partner. Saudi exports to China in 2021 consisted largely of petrochemicals and plastics, while Saudi imports from China were largely electrical equipment, machinery and vehicles, according to Trading Economics. 

Saudi Arabia may also be eyeing Chinese help to boost its nuclear capabilities during Xi’s visit, according to a report from the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs. 

Key regional leaders are expected to attend the summits on Thursday and Friday. Those include according to China Briefing including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Salem Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani. Tunisian President Kais Saied is also expected to arrive in Riyadh on Wednesday. 

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