Saudi Arabia will host a Chinese-Arab conference on December 9 during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the country, according to three Arab officials in the region with knowledge of the planning.
Xi is scheduled to arrive in Riyadh on December 7, according to two of the diplomats and the fourth source with direct knowledge of the visit. The trip comes at a delicate time for Saudi-American relations, strained by a dispute over energy supplies and concerns about China’s growing influence in the Middle East.
Diplomats reported that invitations to the Chinese-Arab summit had been extended to leaders from the Middle East and North Africa.
The Saudi government’s press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Xi’s visit or the summit’s schedule. Regarding Xi’s travel, the Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to an inquiry.
Diplomats stated without elaboration that the Chinese delegation would likely sign hundreds of agreements and memorandums of understanding spanning energy, security, and investments with Gulf nations and other Arab states.
Earlier this month, Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, told Reuters that improving trade ties and regional security will be a priority during the visit, which is also scheduled to feature a China-Gulf conference in addition to the larger Arab gathering.
“The amount of representation will vary from country to country, with many Arab leaders expected to attend and others sending at least their foreign ministries,” one Arab official told Reuters.
Xi’s travel occurs in the context of Washington’s deteriorating relations with both Beijing and Riyadh over disputes on human rights and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and as Western countries fear increased economic rivalry from China, which they claim leverages its economic strength as diplomatic clout.
In the past few years, Gulf Arab states have strengthened their ties with China and Russia as regional worries about the United States’ commitment to the region have increased.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have resisted U.S. pressure to “take sides” in their relations with China, a significant trading partner, and Russia, an OPEC+ oil producer alliance member.
The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden was enraged by the OPEC+ decision to slash output objectives in October against U.S. objections, further eroding long-standing tensions with Saudi Arabia that Biden had attempted to restore during a contentious July visit to the kingdom.