Saudi Arabia invites Chinese President Xi to visit the kingdom amid strained relations with the United States


RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia has invited Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Riyadh as the kingdom seeks to deepen ties with Beijing amid strained relations with Washington, sources familiar with the plan said.

The trip is expected to take place after Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, which begins in early April this year, the people said, in what could be Xi’s first overseas trip since the start of the war. Covid-19 pandemic. Riyadh plans to replicate the warm welcome it extended to former President Donald Trump in 2017 when he visited the kingdom on his first trip abroad, one of the people said.

“The crown prince and Xi are close friends and both understand there is huge potential to strengthen ties,” a Saudi official said. “It’s not just ‘They buy oil from us and we buy weapons from them’.”

The Saudi Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Embassy in Riyadh did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The trip comes amid shifting geopolitics in the Middle East, as the United States seeks to focus more attention and resources on Asia while China and Russia expand their influence in the region. Amid doubts about Washington’s resilience, particularly after the US’s hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan, many of its regional partners are seeking new economic and security ties.

The war in Ukraine has further shed light on the ongoing shifts in traditional alliances in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia rejected US demands to pump more oil to help rein in soaring crude prices and the UAE ignored US lobbying and abstained from a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Russian invasion.

Saudi Arabia has forged deep ties with Mr Trump, who sided with the kingdom in a regional dispute with Qatar, withdrew the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to which Riyadh s opposed and stood by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after the Saudi dissident was killed. journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in 2018. But Mr. Trump’s decision not to respond to an Iranian drone and missile attack on key Saudi oil sites in 2019 has rattled Gulf partners who have relied for decades on the promise of American security protection. Iran has denied any involvement in attacks on oil installations.

China is the world’s largest oil importer and the largest trading partner of Saudi Arabia, which is the world’s largest oil exporter. Beijing also enjoys warm relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival, which Riyadh could seek to take advantage of if Tehran agrees to a revived nuclear deal with the United States and other world powers.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine helped push the price of oil above $100 a barrel for the first time since 2014. Here’s how rising oil prices could further boost inflation in the American economy. Photo illustration: Todd Johnson

Mr Xi’s visit would contrast with Prince Mohammed’s relationship with President Biden, who shunned the de facto Saudi leader after he vowed during the 2020 campaign to treat the kingdom as a “pariah” state. The prince has refused to speak with Mr Biden in recent weeks as the United States worked to bolster international support for Ukraine and contain a spike in oil prices, the Wall Street Journal reported last week. .

Mr Xi last met Prince Mohammed in 2019 when he visited Beijing to sign energy and trade deals amid the first wave of Western criticism over the murder of Mr Khashoggi, who had moved to the United States. United and criticized the Crown Prince.

It will be Xi’s first trip to Saudi Arabia since 2016 and could be his first trip abroad since the pandemic began. While many other heads of state have come out of their protective bubbles and started hitting the road, the Chinese president has limited his interactions with his foreign counterparts to video link and phone.

Prince Mohammed has also been staying close to home recently, traveling to only a handful of Middle Eastern countries in the past two years. He was expected to attend the opening of the Beijing Olympics last month, but ultimately didn’t.

The crown prince has not visited the United States since the murder of Mr Khashoggi by men close to him rocked US relations.

The Saudis have signaled they want more US support for their intervention in Yemen’s civil war, help for their own civilian nuclear program as Iran advances and legal immunity for the prince Mohammed in the United States, Saudi officials said. The crown prince faces multiple lawsuits in the United States, including for the murder of Mr Khashoggi.

Write to Stephen Kalin at [email protected] and Summer Said at [email protected]

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