China's Hu says ready to work for Wasia peace
RIYADH, Apr 23 (Reuters) Chinese President Hu Jintao told Saudi Arabia today that the world's most populous country was ready to help bring stability to the West Asia.
''The Middle East is a vital region in the world and there will be no achievements and development in the world without a stable Middle East,'' Hu said in the translated comments.
''China is ready to work with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to strengthen peace and development in the Middle East and to build a world of peace, stability and prosperity,'' he told Saudi Arabia's Shura council, an unelected legislature.
Hu is on a three-day visit to cement growing political and economic ties with Saudi Arabia, which was China's top oil supplier in 2005, providing 17.5 per cent of its imports with 443,600 barrels per day (bpd).
After joining the World Trade Organisation in December, Saudi Arabia's protected but growing economy is also opening to the outside world and the kingdom is eyeing new export opportunities in Asia.
Hu is only the second foreign leader after French President Jacques Chirac to address Saudi Arabia's quasi-parliament.
Some US analysts have suggested that China wants to rival US influence in the Gulf region. Arab countries have traditionally seen China as an ally in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where they view Washington as biased towards Israel.
Saudi Arabia has insisted that its growing ties with Beijing are no threat to the United States.
The Chinese president alluded to the region's simmering political problems, but offered no specific solutions.
''When the Cold War ended... many hot issues remained without resolution, and new conflicts have caused more instability,'' Hu said, in an apparent reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Yesterday Hu discussed those issues as well as the stand-off over Iran's nuclear programme with the Riyadh-based head of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Abdul-Rahman al-Attiya, Saudi media said.
Attiya said that China and the six-nation GCC could sign a free-trade agreement by the end of the year. China also signed cooperation agreements on oil, security, defence systems and health, Saudi media said, but no details were available.
King Abdullah headed a large delegation to China in January in a drive to develop Saudi Arabia's trade links with rising Asian economies and diversify from traditional US ties.
Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as an Islamic model state, implementing Sharia law in the birthplace of Islam, once regarded Communist China as a godless, revolutionary threat.
The two countries, which share authoritarian political systems, established diplomatic ties in 1990.
REUTERS SRS PM1602