AFP & Arab News
RIYADH: Chinese President Xi Jinping met Gulf leaders at a summit on Friday after earlier signing a series of agreements with Saudi Arabia.
The leader of the world’s second biggest economy sat down with regional rulers on the third and final day of his trip, only his third journey outside China since the coronavirus pandemic began.
State television showed leaders from the six-country, resource-rich Gulf Cooperation Council – including the Qatari ruler and Bahraini king – arriving at the conference venue in Riyadh on Friday.
“Gulf countries and China can achieve economic and industrial integration,’ Xi told Gulf leaders gathered in Riyadh, and noted that the Gulf Cooperation Council succeeded in overcoming global challenges.
Xi also committed China’s unwavering support for the Gulf countries’ security and assured that the Asian giant will continue to import oil in large quantities from the region.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman earlier addressed the gathering, noting that the summit reflected the common desire to strengthen Gulf-Chinese cooperation.
The Gulf countries are bolstering ties with China as part of part of a strategy diversifying their fossil fuel-reliant economies.
Officials have provided few details about Friday’s agenda, but one potential area is a China-GCC free trade agreement that has been under discussion for nearly two decades.
“China will want to draw the lengthy negotiations to a close, as FTAs with major trading blocs is a matter of prestige for Beijing,” said Robert Mogielnicki of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in his earlier noted that the group “discussed the establishment of a Gulf-Chinese free trade zone.”
A breakthrough on the trade pact could help Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s biggest economy, diversify its economy in line with the Vision 2030 reform agenda championed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.