US warns China is trying to grow influence as Xi Jinping lands in Saudi Arabia for MBS summit

China's President Xi Jinping being received by the Governor of Riyadh province Prince Faisal bin Bandar al-Saud - AFP via Getty Images
China's President Xi Jinping being received by the Governor of Riyadh province Prince Faisal bin Bandar al-Saud - AFP via Getty Images

Xi Jinping was greeted with Saudi jets painting the sky the colours of the Chinese flag when he touched down in Riyadh for a state visit which has caused consternation in the US.

The Chinese president is due to hold meetings with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, over the course of the three-day visit which began on Wednesday.

It is understood that Riyadh hopes to sign a "strategic partnership" with Beijing to boost bilateral trade, which already stands at $90bn (£73bn) per year.

But US officials are concerned that the state visit is part of Mr Xi's attempts to build his global influence, amid an energy crisis and a rapidly growing east-west divide over the war in Ukraine.

"We are mindful of the influence that China is trying to grow around the world," White House spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday.

Biden concerned Saudi Arabia is siding with Russia

The visit comes amid increased tensions between the United States and Saudi Arabia, which reportedly feels that Washington has failed to provide enough support in stopping attacks by Iranian proxies in the region on Gulf cities.

President Joe Biden is also said to be concerned that Saudi Arabia has in effect sided with Russia in the war on Ukraine by slashing oil production, a move that benefits Vladimir Putin.

On Wednesday, Riyadh was decked out in Chinese flags as the Kingdom gave a far warmer welcome to Mr Xi than the one received by Mr Biden during his own visit in July.

Riyadh was decked out in Chinese flags - AFP
Riyadh was decked out in Chinese flags - AFP

Ali Shihabi, a Saudi analyst familiar with the Saudi leadership's strategy, said "much deeper relations developed in recent years" between China and Saudi Arabia.

"As the largest importer of Saudi oil, China is a critically important partner and military relations have been developing strongly," Mr Shihabi said.

He added that "a number of agreements" would be signed during the visit, while Mr Xi is due to meet various Gulf business leaders.

Judge dismisses lawsuit against Crown Prince

On the eve of the Chinese-Saudi meeting, a US judge dismissed a lawsuit against the Crown Prince which accused him of the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The case was quashed because the Crown Prince benefits from "sovereign immunity" in the United States, the judge said, in a major blow to Khashoggi's relatives who are seeking justice for his death.

The Crown Prince has strongly denied accusations that he personally ordered the killing, which he blamed on rogue Saudi agents.