RIYADH: China's new foreign minister Qin Gang wants to build stronger ties with Saudi Arabia and set up a China-Gulf free trade zone "as soon as possible", according to a ministry statement published late on Monday.
Qin, who was just recently named to the position, made the suggestion in a telephone conversation with his Saudi Arabian counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, adding that China highly appreciates Saudi Arabia's consistent firm support on issues involving China's core interests.
He said the sides should further expand cooperation on economy, trade, energy, infrastructure, investment, finance, and high technology.
In addition, Qin pressed for continuously strengthening the China-Gulf strategic partnership and building "the China-Gulf Free Trade Zone as soon as possible."
During the phone call, Prince Faisal congratulated Qin Gang on his new post as foreign minister and the two officials reviewed Saudi-Chinese relations.
Prince Faisal said that Saudi Arabia regards relations with China as an important cornerstone of foreign relations, and that Saudi Arabia fully adheres to the one-China principle, according to the statement from the Chinese foreign ministry.
They also discussed bilateral cooperation, developments in regional and international events, efforts exerted with regard to these events in order to enhance security and stability, and the most important issues of common concern.
Qin, who just wrapped up a tour to several African countries, also had telephone conversations with Dutch Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra and Argentine Foreign Minister Santiago Cafierro, according to state media.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received a phone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday.
During the call, the two leaders reviewed bilateral relations and ways of developing them in various fields.
A number of issues of common concern were also discussed.
This comes as Saudi Arabia remained the top supplier of crude oil to China in 2022, according to Reuters.
The Kingdom shipped a total of 87.49 million tons of crude to China in 2022, equivalent to 1.75 million bpd, customs data showed, on par with the level in 2021.
China’s state-backed oil refiners largely fulfilled their term contracts with Saudi Arabia in 2022 despite the sluggish domestic demand.
Saudi Arabia is expected to remain a key, if not the dominant, crude exporter to China after President Xi Jinping’s visit to Riyadh in December, where he told Gulf leaders that China would work to buy oil in Chinese yuan, rather than US dollars.
(With inputs from Reuters)