12/07/2022, 11.37
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Riyadh: with one eye on the US, Bin Salman and Xi strengthen their billionaire friendship

The talks focus on economic agreements, military cooperation, investment and energy. On 9 December, the Sino-Arab summit, attended by the most important Gulf countries. The signing of a series of projects worth a total of 30 billion euro is on the agenda. Possible partnerships in the nuclear field. 

Riyadh (AsiaNews) - Economic agreements, military collaboration, investments and energy. And much more, starting with the Sino-Arab summit on December 9, which various international players are watching with attention (and some concern), starting with the United States.

Chinese President Xi Jinping's three-day official visit to Saudi Arabia opens today, where he has scheduled meetings at the highest levels starting with the Crown Prince - and strongman of the Wahhabi kingdom - Mohammed bin Salman.

Yesterday, on the eve of his departure, the official Saudi agency Spa anticipated the signing of a series of agreements worth a total of more than 110 billion riyals (around 30 billion euros). 

On his tour, Xi is scheduled to hold a bilateral summit chaired by King Salman in the presence of Crown Prince and Prime Minister bin Salman, who effectively leads the nation. The highlight is the Sino-Arab meeting on 9 December, which will be attended by six member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, as well as talks with various Middle Eastern leaders in an attempt to strengthen Beijing's role and presence in the region.

The visit that comes at a time of strong tensions between Riyadh and the United States over a series of issues ranging from energy to security, in addition to the unresolved issue of human rights (which for China remains a more than marginal element).

In addition to the energy issue, according to analysts, Xi and bin Salman are expected to discuss potential billion-dollar deals for Chinese companies, which will be increasingly involved in the mega-projects launched by the crown prince as part of the 'Vision 2030' plan.

The initiative to enfranchise the nation from oil, with a strong focus on tourism, finance and big business to strengthen the domestic economy. The jewel in the crown is the futuristic 500-billion-euro city of Neom: technologies such as facial recognition and surveillance will be fundamental to its development, two sectors in which Beijing can boast solid experience (notwithstanding the serious accusations of human rights violations and repression launched by activist groups). 

Xi's last visit to Saudi Arabia was in 2016, the year before bin Salman's consecration to power, and then on to Egypt and Iran, the rival Shiite power in the Sunni universe that refers to Riyadh. In contrast, the crown prince travelled to China and met with the president in 2019, during an Asian tour just months after the prolonged travel freeze - and international meetings of leaders - due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the Financial Times, China and Saudi Arabia could sign agreements on nuclear power, an area that the Wahhabi kingdom looks to with interest to overcome its dependence on oil for energy.

The Chinese delegation is also aiming to expand cooperation with other Arab nations, starting with oil: China is Riyadh's main partner with bilateral trade worth more than EUR 69 billion in 2021. Chinese exports to the Saudis exceeded EUR 26 billion, while Chinese imports amounted to around EUR 43 billion.

Then there is the issue of refineries, with Saudi Aramco launching an investment in early 2022 to build a EUR 10 billion plant: a petrochemical complex in north-east China that is also the largest investment in the Asian country. A final point touches on security and military collaboration, with Saudi Advanced Communications and Electronics Systems Co (Aces) signing a partnership with China Electronics Technology Group to produce cargo systems for unmanned aircraft in the kingdom. 

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