China signed energy deals with its top oil provider Saudi Arabia on Sunday as its Premier Wen Jiabao visited the kingdom with tension over Iran’s nuclear programme sparking fears of major oil supply disruptions.
The Chinese leader met King Abdullah on Sunday, Saudi state news agency SPA said, adding that the two leaders “discussed regional and international developments, as well as cooperation between the two countries.”
Saudi Arabia is the largest supplier of oil to energy-hungry China and bilateral trade between the two countries amounted to $58.5 billion in the first 11 months of 2011, according to Xinhua Chinese news agency.
The two countries inked several economic and cultural agreements on Sunday including a Memorandum of Understanding between Saudi petrochemical giant SABIC and China’s Sinopec to build a petrochemical plant in Tianjin, SPA said.
They also signed a cooperation agreement for the “peaceful use of nuclear energy,” it added without elaborating.
On Saturday, Wen met with Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, who is Saudi’s interior minister, SPA reported.
Wen also held talks with the head of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, an OIC statement said.
The Gulf tour will also take Wen to the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
His trip comes as the West ups the stakes in its standoff with Iran, threatening to impose sanctions on the oil exports of the Islamic republic, which provides 11 percent of China’s oil imports.
Iran is the third largest provider of oil to China. Qatar and the UAE, although both major oil-producing states, do not yet figure among the top 10 oil exporters to Beijing.
The visit comes days after Wen met with US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who was in Beijing to drum up support for the new US sanctions that aim to squeeze Iran’s crucial oil revenues.
The measures bar any foreign banks that do business with Iran’s central bank — responsible for processing most oil purchases in the Islamic republic — from US financial markets.
But China opposes the sanctions on Iran, which Washington and other nations accuse of developing nuclear weapons — a claim denied by Tehran.
Japan’s Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba was in the Gulf last week also on a tour aimed to secure oil supplies in case of a shortage resulting from sanctions on Iran’s oil exports.
Iran has starkly warned Gulf states not to make up for any shortfall in its oil exports under the new US and EU sanctions.
If Arab neighbours compensate for a looming EU ban on Iranian imports, “we would not consider these actions to be friendly,” Iran’s representative to OPEC, Mohammad Ali Khatibi, was quoted as saying by the Sharq newspaper on Sunday.