RIYADH (AFP) – Chinese President Hu Jintao has arrived in Saudi Arabia for a 48-hour visit expected to focus on economic and energy cooperation.
Hu was received at Riyadh airport by the capital’s Governor Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz and Oil Minister Ali al-Nuaimi, a Chinese embassy official said.
A series of cooperation agreements will be signed after Hu holds talks with King Abdullah, who paid a landmark visit to China in January, the official said.
Hu’s visit is expected to focus on economic and energy cooperation as Beijing looks for oil to fuel its growth and Riyadh boosts ties with Asian powers.
The Chinese leader, coming from the United States, is to meet Saudi businessmen and call on petrochemical giant Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) before flying to the oil-rich Eastern Province on Sunday to meet officials of state oil conglomerate Saudi Aramco in Dhahran.
SABIC’s CEO Mohammed al-Mady was quoted on Thursday as saying the company was awaiting Beijing’s approval of a joint venture to build a 5.3-billion-dollar naphtha plant in China.
China’s commerce ministry said the trade volume between the two countries hit 2.7 billion dollars during the first two months of 2006, a 43 percent rise over the same period last year.
Saudi exports to Beijing were worth 2.21 billion dollars, according to the Chinese Xinhua news agency.
The kingdom exported some 22.18 million tons of oil to China last year, becoming its biggest crude supplier.
King Abdullah oversaw the signing of five economic deals, including an energy agreement, during his trip to China, which came as part of an Asian tour underlining Riyadh’s quest to forge partnerships with Asia.
While Beijing needs energy to feed its growing economy, Riyadh, which has traditionally had strong Western ties, seeks to secure more markets for its oil and increase its technology suppliers as it opens up its economy following accession to the World Trade Organization, experts say.
China’s Sinopec is drilling for gas in the Saudi desert and building a refinery with Aramco in the Chinese province of Fujian. Another joint refinery venture is planned in Qingdao city.
On Sunday Hu is to give a speech at the Shura Council, becoming only the second foreign leader to do so after French President Jacques Chirac, who addressed the appointed advisory body in March.
Hu stressed the need to seek a “peaceful resolution” for the Iranian nuclear crisis during talks with US President George W. Bush, maintaining Beijing’s distance from the tough US stand, a position similar to that of Saudi Arabia, which has advocated a diplomatic solution to the dispute.
Hu is due to leave for Morocco on Monday and continue his tour in Africa with stops in Nigeria and Kenya.