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Chinese president to visit Saudi amid high tensions with US

Chinese President Xi Jinping will arrive in Saudi Arabia on Thursday for a two-day state visit amid high tensions between the United States and the two countries, this is according to a source with knowledge of the trip, an Arab diplomatic source and two other senior Arab officials.

Xi’s trip to Riyadh will include a China-Arab summit and a China-GCC conference, according to the four sources.

At least 14 Arab heads of state are expected to attend the China-Arab summit, according to the Arab diplomatic source who described the trip as a “milestone” for Arab-Chinese relations.

The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Rumors of a Chinese presidential visit to the US’ largest Middle East ally have been circulating for months, but are yet to be confirmed by the governments of Saudi Arabia and China.

Beijing has not made an official announcement that Xi will visit Saudi Arabia. When asked about the potential trip during a regular Foreign Ministry briefing on Tuesday, spokeswoman Mao Ning said she did not have any information to provide.

Last week, the Saudi government sent out registration forms for reporters to cover the summit, without confirming the exact dates.

Reports of the long-awaited visit come against the backdrop of a number of disagreements harbored by the US towards both Beijing and Riyadh, which to Washington’s dismay have only solidified ties in recent years.

The US and Saudi Arabia are still embroiled in a heated spat over oil production, which in October culminated in strong rhetoric and traded accusations when the Saudi-led oil cartel OPEC+ slashed output by two million barrels per day in an effort to “stabilize” prices.

As a strong US ally for eight long decades, Saudi Arabia has become bitter over what it perceives to be waning US security presence in the region, especially amid growing threats from Iran and its armed Yemeni proxies.

China has been at odds with the US over Taiwan as an economic mammoth in the east, which US President Joe Biden has repeatedly vowed to protect should China attack.

As American allies in the Arab Gulf accuse Washington of falling behind on its security guarantees in the region, China has been cementing its ties with Gulf monarchies, as well as with US enemies Iran and Russia.

Following last month’s massive oil cut, some US officials have accused Saudi Arabia of siding with Russia and aiding President Vladimir Putin with his war on Ukraine.

Saudi officials have denied either weaponizing oil or siding with Russia.

Writing by Tersoo Nicholas