(Corrects 18th paragraph to read "...clients within its biggest
market.." instead of "...clients with its biggest market...")
* King seeking investments after launching reforms
* Saudi Arabia, China looking at refinery, petrochemical
* China trying to play "honest broker" in Middle East
* Saudi, Chinese firms in 21 pacts on oil, ecommerce,
By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING, March 16 Saudi Arabia's King Salman
oversaw the signing of deals worth as much as $65 billion on the
first day of a visit to Beijing on Thursday, as the world's
largest oil exporter looks to cement ties with the world's
The deals included a memorandum of understanding (MoU)
between giant state oil firm Saudi Aramco and
China North Industries Group Corp (Norinco), to look
into building refining and chemical plants in China.
Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) and Sinopec,
which already jointly run a chemical complex in Tinajin, also
agreed to develop petrochemical projects in both China and Saudi
Saudi Arabia's octogenarian monarch, who has overseen the
launch of an ambitious economic reform plan since his accession
two years ago, is on a month-long Asian tour.
The visits to countries that are some of world's fastest
growing importers of Saudi oil aim to promote investment
opportunities in the kingdom, including the sale of a stake in
Saudi Arabia has sought to boost oil sales to China, the
world's second-largest oil market, after losing market share to
Russia last year, by working mostly with China's top three state
In Beijing's cavernous Great Hall of the People, President
Xi Jinping told Salman that China was a reliable and stable oil
export market and the two countries should deepen cooperation.
"For a long time, China and Islamic countries have respected
each other and had win-win cooperation, and have created a model
of the peaceful coexistence of different cultures," Xi said,
according to China's Foreign Ministry.
Salman told Xi he hoped China could play an even greater
role in Middle East affairs, the ministry added.
"Saudi Arabia is willing to work hard with China to promote
global and regional peace, security and prosperity," Salman
Deputy Chinese Foreign Minister Zhang Ming said the
memorandums of understanding and letters of intent were
potentially worth about $65 billion, involving everything from
energy to space.
"President Xi Jinping and King Salman are old friends,"
Zhang said. "Practical cooperation between China and Saudi
Arabia has already made major achievements, and has huge
A statement later posted on Saudi state news agency SPA said
the documents included an MoU for the kingdom to participate in
China's Chang E-4 moon mission and a partnership agreement for
Besides the MoUs agreed between the two governments, Saudi
and Chinese companies signed 21 deals, ranging from exploring
investments in oil and petrochemical plants to ecommerce and
co-operating in renewable energy markets.
For Saudi Aramco, the potential investments fit with its
strategy to expand its refining and chemicals portfolio in its
bid to diversify assets and secure long-term agreements for its
Beijing, for its part, has recently loosened its grip on a
sector long dominated by the country's top three energy giants
in an effort to boost private investment as the economy cools.
The Norinco deal could involve exploring the possibility of
a greenfield refinery and chemical plant in Panjin, Liaoning
province, while also upgrading an existing refinery and
petrochemical facility in the same location, an industry source
"This MoU shows Aramco is determined to expand its market
share in the Far East by looking beyond oil majors and working
closely with new independent clients within its biggest market,"
said Sadad al-Husseini, an energy consultant and former senior
Aramco said in written statements the MoU was for the
development of refinery and chemical facilities.
The state oil giant also signed an MoU with Aerosun Corp for
the manufacture of reinforced thermoplastic pipes and
China has traditionally played little role in Middle East
conflicts or diplomacy, despite its reliance on the region for
oil. But it has been trying to get more involved in efforts to
end Syria's six-year-old civil war, where Riyadh supports rebels
battling President Bashar al-Assad.
Last year China also offered support for Yemen's government,
which is backed by a Saudi-led Gulf Arab coalition in a war
against the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement that controls much
of the country.
Zhang said both the Yemen and Syria crises were discussed by
Salman and Xi, and both leaders agreed that these issues must be
resolved politically via talks.
China has had to tread a careful line, though, as it also
has close relations with Iran. Xi visited both Saudi Arabia and
Iran in January last year.
Next week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits
One Beijing-based diplomat from a Muslim-majority country
told Reuters that China was trying to play the role of "honest
broker" in the Middle East, as it lacks the historical baggage
of the Americans or the Europeans.
"China does not take sides and that is appreciated," said
the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
(Additional reporting by Reem Shamseddine in KHOBAR, Katie Paul
in RIYADH and Meng Meng and Chen Aizhu in BEIJING; Editing by
Clarence Fernandez, Greg Mahlich)