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China's Wen Presses Saudi Arabia for Oil Access

Source: Reuters 1/15/2012, Location: Middle East

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pressed Saudi Arabia to open its huge oil and gas resources to expanded Chinese investment, media reports said against a backdrop of growing tension over Iran and worries over its crude exports to the Asian power.

The Saudi kingdom is China's biggest source of imported oil, and securing energy security was high on Wen's agenda in Riyadh, in part reflecting concerns about how nuclear tensions and sanctions could unsettle ties with Iran. "China and Saudi Arabia are both in important stages of development, and there are broad prospects for enhancing cooperation," Wen on Saturday told Prince Nayef, who is a senior member of the Saudi government, according to Xinhua.

"Both sides must strive together to expand trade and cooperation, upstream and downstream, in crude oil and natural gas," said Wen, referring to access to extracting oil and gas and then processing the them. The Xinhua report made no mention of any discussion of Iran, whose oil exports to China face pressure from new U.S. sanctions. The U.S. sanctions threat is a particular worry for China, the biggest buyer of Iranian oil. Only Saudi Arabia and Angola sell it more crude.

"Beijing is concerned with the potential response to Iranian bellicose statements and with the spike in oil prices that would ensue from greater turmoil in Syria and Iran," Michal Meidan, an analyst in London with the Eurasia Group who studies Chinese energy investment and policy, said in an emailed research note.

Late on Saturday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry denounced U.S. punishment of China's state-run Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp.

On Thursday, the Obama administration invoked U.S. law to sanction Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp, which it said was Iran's largest supplier of refined petroleum products.

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