China, Saudi Arabia stress ties, sign $65 billion in deals

March 16 (UPI) — China and Saudi Arabia signed more than a dozen agreements on economic cooperation worth $65 billion, according to Beijing’s foreign ministry.

Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhang Ming told reporters Thursday that 14 agreements pertaining to investments, energy and space were signed when Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, according to Xinhua news agency.

The Saudi king is on a state visit to China from Wednesday to Saturday, and some portions of his trip overlap with a visit from U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The meeting between the king and Xi comes at a time when China has reportedly been asked to play a bigger role in the Middle East, according to the South China Morning Post.

While the two sides do not necessarily agree on a strategy to resolve the Syria conflict, Chinese diplomats who spoke to the Hong Kong-based newspaper said China is growing confident about its influential role in a multipolar world.

Energy cooperation, which has been the foundation of China-Saudi Arabia relations, is at the center of Saudi Arabia’s concerns, according to the report.

Saudi Arabia is the top exporter of crude oil while China is the world’s biggest importer.

Li Guofu, director of Middle East studies at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, said Saudi Arabia might be keen on engaging China more closely because Saudis perceive U.S. retreat from its leadership role in the world.

“King Salman’s Asia trip occurs against the backdrop that U.S. global dominance has shown signs of declining amid America’s gradual withdrawal from the Middle East and China has become increasingly active in the region,” Li said.

The United States has also decreased imports of Saudi oil in the wake of a shale gas boom.

Trade between China and Saudi Arabia has grown exponentially, and the two sides are expected to expand political and military cooperation, according to the report.

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