The Chinese leader's visit coincides with heightened tensions between Saudi Arabia and the United States over issues ranging from energy policy to regional security.

China's Xi last visited Saudi Arabia in 2016, the year before Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was designated as the successor of King Salman.
China's Xi last visited Saudi Arabia in 2016, the year before Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was designated as the successor of King Salman. (AFP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping is visiting Saudi Arabia starting on Wednesday for a three-day trip, his first to the world's biggest crude oil exporter since 2016, according to Saudi state media.

The visit will include a bilateral summit chaired by Saudi King Salman and attended by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the official Saudi Press Agency reported on Tuesday.

Xi, head of the world's second-biggest economy, will also attend a summit with rulers from the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council and talks convening leaders from elsewhere in the Middle East, the state news agency added.

The Chinese leader's arrival coincides with heightened tensions between Saudi Arabia and the United States over issues ranging from energy policy to regional security. 

The latest blow to that decades-old partnership came in October when the OPEC+ oil bloc agreed to cut production by two million barrels a day, a move the White House said amounted to "aligning with Russia" on the war in Ukraine. 

On Sunday, OPEC+ opted to keep those cuts in place.

China is Saudi Arabia's biggest customer for crude oil, purchasing roughly a quarter of Saudi oil exports. 

Beyond energy, analysts say leaders from the two countries are expected to discuss potential deals that could see Chinese firms become more deeply involved in mega-projects that are central to Crown Prince Mohammed's vision of diversifying the Saudi economy away from oil. 

Xi last visited Saudi Arabia in 2016, the year before Mohammed bin Salman became first in line to the throne, on a trip that also featured stops in Egypt and Iran.

King Salman also visited China during a tour in March 2017 and met with Xi at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Crown Prince Mohammed visited China and met with Xi on an Asia tour in 2019.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies