"China will continue to firmly support the GCC countries in maintaining their own security... and build a collective security framework for the Gulf," says President Xi Jinping at China-GCC summit.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman promises
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman promises "continuing Arab-Chinese cooperation to serve our common goals and aspirations of our peoples". (AFP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping has touted close security and energy ties with Gulf nations during summits in Saudi Arabia that have highlighted tensions with Washington.

On the third and final day of his visit on Friday, Xi attended a gathering of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council and a broader China-Arab leaders' meeting.

It was only Xi's third journey outside China since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Friday's talks followed bilateral sit-downs on Thursday with Saudi royals that yielded a joint statement stressing "the importance of stability" in oil markets — a point of friction with the United States, which has urged the Saudis to raise production.

"China will continue to firmly support the GCC countries in maintaining their own security... and build a collective security framework for the Gulf," Xi said on Friday at the start of the China-GCC summit.

"China will continue to import large quantities of crude oil from GCC countries on an ongoing basis," he said, also vowing to expand other areas of energy cooperation, including liquefied natural gas imports.

READ MORE: China, Saudi Arabia sign strategic deals as Xi heralds 'new era'

Arab-China cooperation

Additionally, Xi said China would make full use of a Shanghai-based platform "to carry out RMB [yuan] settlement of oil and gas trade" — a move that, if Gulf countries participate, could weaken the global dominance of the US dollar.

Asked if Riyadh would agree to such a scheme, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said he had "nothing to add".

Oil from Saudi Arabia alone accounted for 17 percent of China's imports last year, and last month Qatar announced a 27-year natural gas deal with China.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's 37-year-old de facto ruler, addressed the summit on Friday, promising "continuing Arab-Chinese cooperation to serve our common goals and aspirations of our peoples".

Bin Salman stressed that the region and the world face challenges and exceptional circumstances that demand collective action.

He said the Gulf states would continue to remain a reliable source for energy supplies to China and the rest of the world.

The Gulf countries, strategic partners of Washington, are bolstering ties with China as part of an eastward turn that involves diversifying their fossil fuel-reliant economies.

One area of focus for the China-GCC summit was a free trade agreement under discussion for nearly two decades.

READ MORE: What does Xi's Saudi Arabia trip mean for the region?

Huawei deal

Xi's visit comes amid persistent rancour between Saudi Arabia and the US, its long-time partner and security guarantor, over oil production, human rights issues and regional security.

It follows US President Joe Biden's trip to Jeddah in July, before midterm elections when he failed to persuade the Saudis to pump more oil to reduce prices.

A memorandum with China's Huawei Technologies, on cloud computing and building high-tech complexes in Saudi cities, was also agreed despite US unease with Gulf allies over a possible security risk in using the Chinese firm's technology. 

Huawei has participated in building 5G networks in most Gulf states despite the US concerns.

Saudi officials have repeatedly stressed that they value deep ties with Washington but will not hesitate to explore relationships elsewhere.

"We are very much focused on cooperation with all parties and I think competition is a good thing," Prince Faisal said on Friday, adding that Riyadh will also continue to have strong relations with the US "across the board".

"We don't believe in polarity."

READ MORE: China's Xi starts landmark visit to Saudi Arabia

Source: TRTWorld and agencies