Securing long-term energy supplies for the giant Chinese economic machine dominated the agenda on Tuesday as Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) made his second visit to oil powerhouse Saudi Arabia.
Traveling with a large entourage of Chinese officials and executives, Hu was greeted at Riyadh airport by Saudi King Abdullah for a three-day visit which underscores the growing importance of the relationship between the world’s biggest oil exporter and its most populous country.
“Saudi Arabia is the biggest oil exporter to China. We value the role it plays and look forward to strengthening cooperation in this field,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu (姜瑜) said earlier.
The visit will also mark the growing investments by Chinese companies in Saudi non-energy sectors, and their interest in taking part in the Saudi government’s massive infrastructure development program.
Both countries stressed their increasing cooperation in fields like health, science and education, and they were expected to sign several accords on trade and other cooperation.
During the airport greeting, Hu introduced to King Abdullah 12 Chinese schoolchildren, survivors of last May’s earthquake in Sichuan province that killed 87,000 people.
The children offered the king their thanks for his donations in support of the victims and Abdullah gave the children gifts, the official SPA news agency said.
China’s Xinhua news agency, quoting an official statement released at the start of the visit, said talks between Hu and King Abdullah would focus on China-Saudi ties as well as “global and regional issues of common concern, including ways of addressing the international financial crisis.”
China’s trade with Saudi Arabia has more than doubled since 2005, rising 65 percent last year alone to reach US$41.8 billion, as oil and gas prices skyrocketed and the Chinese economy required more fuel to keep expanding.
News reports said Chinese oil processing giant Sinopec could ink agreements with the Saudi state oil company Aramco on participating in the construction of two Saudi refineries.
Since 2004, Sinopec has also been exploring for oil in Saudi Arabia together with Aramco.
China is also interested in getting a share of Saudi Arabia’s massive US$120 billion five-year plan of investments in industry, education and infrastructure, and in providing workers to the manpower-hungry Middle Eastern country.
Chinese officials say there are 62 Chinese companies operating in the kingdom with nearly 22,000 workers on their payrolls, 15,800 of them Chinese. Chinese companies have submitted bids for projects for roads, railways, power generation, port development and other areas.
Chinese companies are also involved in large investments in mining and ore refining.
On Friday, Saudi officials announced that a consortium including China Railway Engineering had won the 6.8 billion riyal (US$1.8 billion) civil works contract for a 444km high-speed railway linking the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina through Jeddah.