January 27, 2006 4:50 pm

Chinese in energy deal with Saudis

China and Saudi Arabia on Friday signed a host of agreements, the most important of which was one on future energy co-operation, during a landmark visit to Beijing by King Abdullah.

The symbolic visit, a first by a Saudi king to China since diplomatic ties were established in 1990, could signal closer co-operation on oil-related projects.

After arriving in Beijing on Sunday, King Abdullah met China’s President Hu Jintao on Friday is scheduled to meet Wen Jiabao, premier, on Saturday. Mr Hu heralded his presence as ushering in “a new chapter” of bilateral relations. “I believe your majesty’s visit will play an important role in pushing forward the development of relations between the two countries,” Mr Hu said on Friday at the Great Hall of the People.

The king, who is also scheduled to visit India, Malaysia and Pakistan, is on his first official trip outside the Middle East since being crowned last year. A large Saudi government and business delegation is on a three-day visit to Beijing to discuss a wide range of energy-related projects, including oil refining, natural gas and mineral exploration. Ali al-Naimi, Saudi oil minister, is also in Beijing. “We hope this co-operation will develop even more,” King Abdullah said. “We praise the important role China plays regionally and internationally.”

Details of the high level discussions between the Saudis and Chinese, both secretive regimes, have been shrouded in uncertainty. Specifics of the were not publicised. Talks on possible military co-operation and terrorism are also thought to be on the agenda.

China has a sizeable Muslim minority, particularly in its western regions, and some of those groups have grown disenchanted with Beijing’s rule.

China, the world’s most voracious energy consumer, relies heavily on Saudi oil. Saudi Arabia is the country’s top supplier of oil, accounting for 440,000 barrels per day, or 17 per cent of Chinese oil imports, in the first 11 months of 2005.

Saudi Aramco already has a $3.5bn (£2bn) deal with Exxon-Mobil and Sinopec, the state-owned refiner, to expand a large refinery project in southern Fujian province. The Saudi oil company is also believed to be considering a project in the northern city of Qingdao. Bilateral trade rose 59 per cent year-on-year in the first 11 months of last year to $14.5bn, according to China’s foreign ministry.

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