Energy to be focus of Hu's Saudi visit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 March, 2006, 12:00am

President's main aim will be to secure supplies, says new envoy to Middle East

President Hu Jintao will visit Saudi Arabia soon, and securing oil supplies for China's power-hungry economy is expected to be high on the agenda, according to a senior Chinese diplomat.

Sun Bigan, the newly appointed special envoy to the Middle East, said Mr Hu's visit would enhance energy co-operation between China and Saudi Arabia - the world's biggest oil supplier with the largest-known reserves.

'During a January visit to Beijing, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud invited Mr Hu to pay a reciprocal visit, and I believe Mr Hu is ready and willing to visit the country as soon as possible,' Mr Sun, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said yesterday.

'China and Saudi Arabia are enjoying good and extensive energy co-operation at the moment.'

The two countries signed energy deals covering oil, natural gas and minerals during King Abdullah's visit, which was the first for a Saudi ruler since diplomatic ties were established in 1990.

Mr Hu's Saudi trip will follow his second visit to the US in April, his first as China's president, according to sources. He will also visit Nigeria - another main oil-producing country - Kenya and Morocco after the US trip.

The Foreign Ministry announced early yesterday that Mr Sun, 64, would replace Wang Shijie, who has served as the country's first special envoy to the Middle East since September 2002, from Saturday.

Ministry officials said Mr Sun's appointment was not surprising as Mr Wang, a career diplomat who had served as China's ambassador to Bahrain, Jordan and Iran, was turning 70 this year.

Mr Wang said he regretted that his three-year mission had come to an end without seeing major progress in resolving the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel.

Mr Sun said the new post meant a great deal of pressure for him because the situation in the region showed little sign of improvement.

He previously made headlines when he led a mission to Iraq in 2004, the first official Chinese delegation to the war-torn country since the American-led invasion. He served as ambassador to Iraq in the 1990s, and to Iran before the war.

'Compared with my previous mission to Iraq, the situation in the Middle East is unexpectedly complicated and changeable, as both of the conflicting sides have faced domestic problems,' he said.

'We believe that whoever wins the majority in elections, he or she must continue with the course of peaceful settlement of the Middle East question through negotiations,' he said, referring to the recent elections in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Mr Sun said he was considering making his first visit to the Middle East and would be willing to work with all parties concerned, indicating possible contact with the militant Islamist movement Hamas that came into power in the Palestinian election.