By Aziz El Yaakoubi and Julie Zhu
RIYADH/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia plans to host a Chinese-Arab summit on Dec. 9 attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to the kingdom, three Arab diplomats in the region familiar with the plans said on Wednesday.
Xi is scheduled to arrive in Riyadh on Dec. 7, two of the diplomats and a fourth source with direct knowledge of the visit said, on a trip that comes at a sensitive time for Saudi-U.S. relations that have been strained by a dispute over energy supplies and concerns over growing Chinese influence in the Middle East.
Invitations have gone out to leaders in the Middle East and North Africa for the Chinese-Arab gathering, the diplomats said.
The Saudi government communications office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Xi’s visit or summit timing. The Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a query on Xi’s trip.
The Chinese delegation is expected to sign dozens of agreements and memoranda of understanding with Gulf nations and other Arab states covering energy, security and investments, the diplomats said without elaborating.
Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs Adel Al-Jubeir earlier this month told Reuters that strengthening trade ties and regional security would be priorities in the visit, which is also expected to include a China-Gulf summit alongside the wider Arab gathering.
“The level of representation depends on each country with many Arab leaders expected to attend, others would send at least their foreign ministers,” one of the Arab diplomats told Reuters.
Xi’s trip comes against the backdrop of Washington’s strained ties with both Beijing and Riyadh over differences on human rights and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and as Western countries face rising economic competition from China, which they say uses its economic might as diplomatic leverage.
Gulf Arab states have in the past few years been strengthening links with China and Russia at a time of growing regional doubts about the commitment of key security partner the United States to the region.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have resisted U.S. pressure to “choose sides” when it comes to their ties with China, a major trade partner, and Russia, a fellow member of the OPEC+ oil producer alliance.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration was angered by the OPEC+ decision in October to cut output targets despite U.S. objections, further fraying long-standing ties with Saudi Arabia that Biden had tried to mend during a thorny visit to the kingdom in July.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Riyadh and Julie Zhu in Hong Kong; Additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Nick Macfie)