TODAY.AZ / Politics

Saudi king in China for oil talks

22 January 2006 [19:00] - TODAY.AZ
King Abdullah has begun the first ever state visit to China by a Saudi leader, expected to focus on boosting co-operation to fuel China's soaring energy needs.

The visit marks the first part of an Asian tour that will take him on to India, Malaysia and Pakistan.

During his three-day stay in China, Abdullah is scheduled to meet President Hu Jintao on Monday and Wu Bangguo, the Chairman of NPC Standing Committee, and Wen Jiabao, the Prime Minister, on Tuesday, reports Al Jazeera.

Kong Quan, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, said on Thursday that the two sides were expected to discuss energy co-operation, anti-terrorism, politics, economics, culture, health and telecommunications.

He gave no information about possible energy deals to be signed.

However, China - the world's number two consumer of oil, has been seeking to expand sources of crude oil to fuel its booming economy.

It has tried to tempt potential partners with offers of diplomatic support and aid packages.

Abdullah's visit follows Beijing's first formal talks with the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) in late December.

China and Saudi Arabia have significantly expanded commercial ties in recent years after establishing diplomatic relations in 1990.

The main Saudi government oil company, a Chinese producer and Exxon Mobil Corp are partners in a $3.5 billion project to expand a refinery in southern China.

Total trade between the two countries - much of it Saudi oil bought by China - grew by 59% to $14 billion in the first 11 months of 2005.

Some observers believe that the Chinese need for new oil supplies could lead to a stand-off with the United States over access to Middle Eastern oil.

However, Chinese analysts say China has neither the cash nor the will to challenge the United States - Saudi Arabia's chief diplomatic ally outside the Middle East.

Chen Fengying, of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told Reuters: "The United States and Saudi Arabia have a special relationship, and it doesn't matter how good relations with India or China become, it's not going to break that special connection."

Zhang Bin, of the Centre for Energy Strategy, says King Abdullah's decision to visit China on his first tour as king away from the Middle East may be designed to play down Saudi ties to Washington.

"At the moment, the United States has a lot of problems in the Islamic world. Its relationship is not very good, so they may have wanted to avoid going there first," he said.

After his talks in Beijing, Abdullah will move on to India, which like China is seeking to secure access to oil supplies to fuel its own economic expansion.


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