China's Xi pledges billions in loans, aid to Arab nations

China's President Xi Jinping pledged more than $23 billion in lines of credit, loans and humanitarian assistance to Arab countries Tuesday in a major push for influence in the region from which China sources much of its energy needs.

Xi told participants in a conference of Arab leaders in Beijing that Syria, Yemen, Jordan and Lebanon would receive $91 million in humanitarian assistance.

Another $151 million was earmarked for aid projects, with the remaining $23 billion designated for financial and economic cooperation, Xi said. No details were given about how or when the money would be dispersed.

"China and Arab states must synergize our development strategies in pursuit of our respective dream of rejuvenation," Xi said.

China has expanded its influence among Arab states both for economic purposes and to counter the influence of Washington and Europe.

Saudi Arabia was China's second-largest source of crude oil last year and Iraq was its third biggest supplier at the start of 2018. The Middle East is also a key node in China's "Belt and Road" initiative that envisages linking Beijing to other parts of Asia, Europe and Africa via a network of ports, railways, economic development zones and power plants.

China "supports the construction of a future logistics network connecting Central Asia with east Africa and the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean," Xi told the conference.

Politically, China has sought a role as an intermediary between Israel and the Palestinians and provided diplomatic cover for Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country's seven-year civil war.