Underscoring the growing bilateral importance of the relationship, Hu Jintao was welcomed at Riyadh airport by Ali al-Nuaimi, the Saudi oil minister.

During Hu's visit a series of cooperation agreements will be signed after Hu holds talks with King Abdullah.

The Saudi king himself made a landmark visit to China in January, the first ever by a Saudi monarch.

Flying in from the US, Hu is also scheduled to meet Saudi businessmen and call on petrochemical giant Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC).

On Sunday he will fly to the oil-rich Eastern Province to meet officials of state oil conglomerate Saudi Aramco in Dhahran.

Saudi Arabis recently became the biggest supplier of crude oil to China's fast growing economy, exporting some 22.18 million tons of oil to China in 2005.

Technology

Saudi Arabia is keen to diversify
the market for its oil

While Beijing needs energy to feed its growing economy, Saudi Arabia, which has traditionally had strong Western ties, is seeking to diversify the market for its oil and broaden its sources of technology imports as it opens up its economy following accession to  the World Trade Organization, analysts say.

China's state-owned oil firm Sinopec is drilling for gas in the Saudi desert and building a refinery with Aramco in the Chinese province of Fujian.

Another joint refinery venture is planned in the northeastern Chinese city of Qingdao.

Hu is due to leave for Morocco on Monday and continue his tour in Africa with stops in Nigeria and Kenya.