Wen's Middle East bonanza

Updated: 2012-01-19 07:43

By Hu Yinan (China Daily)

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Premier wraps up landmark trip as key agreements signed

SHARJAH, UAE - China signed economic and trade agreements worth 100 billion yuan ($16 billion) with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as Premier Wen Jiabao wrapped up a six-day visit to the Middle East on Thursday.

Wen's Middle East bonanza

Premier Wen Jiabao and the ruler of Sharjah, Sultan bin Mohammed al-Qassimi, attend the Arab-China Business Conference in the Gulf emirate on Wednesday. [Photo/China Daily]

The first currency swap agreement with Arab nations, worth 35 billion yuan, was also signed in Abu Dhabi, Wen told the Fourth Arab-China Business Conference in Sharjah on Wednesday.

The premier arrived in Qatar, the final leg of his landmark Middle East tour, shortly after addressing the forum in Sharjah.

After meetings in Doha, the Qatari capital, Wen will depart for Beijing on Thursday.

Wen said on Wednesday that China had signed more than a dozen agreements, across a broad range of sectors, including trade, energy, infrastructure, finance and culture, with the Saudi and UAE governments.

Sinopec on Saturday sealed an $8.5 billion deal with Saudi oil powerhouse Aramco for a joint venture oil refinery that will become operational in 2014. About 10 percent of the project had already been completed, according to Sinopec.

The Dubai-based Gulf News newspaper said an agreement was signed on Tuesday between the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) and the China National Petroleum Corp to develop upstream projects.

The Chinese company will conduct technical and economic studies and forward the results to Adnoc, the newspaper said.

Reflecting on his first trip to the energy-rich region, Wen said trade between Beijing and Arab countries registered record figures in 2011 despite Middle East turbulence.

"China has always given priority, and focused on, developing relations with Arab nations in its foreign policy," Wen said.

Beijing and Arab states have, historically, been "good friends, good partners and good brothers", he said.

The visit by a Chinese premier to Saudi Arabia was the first in 21 years. Wen's visits to the UAE and Qatar were the first by a Chinese premier.

As "natural partners" with Arab nations, Beijing is willing to expand imports from the Middle East and extend economic and technological assistance to the region, Wen said during his speech on Wednesday.

"China does not seek a trade surplus. It is willing to import more products, in particular non-energy products, from Arab nations," he said.

Wen also called on Arab nations to "seize the moment" and push forward ongoing negotiations to sign a free trade agreement between China and the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The negotiations, which were launched in July 2004, are now "close to the end", he said.

China was willing to make sure that the talks led to benefits for all parties involved, he said.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar are GCC members. Wen and GCC Secretary-General agreed to speed up the talks process when they met in Riyadh.

The GCC chief told Wen that his council and its members view relations with China from a strategic perspective and appreciate the important role that China plays in regional and global affairs.