China's ICBC opens first branch in Saudi Arabia

BEIJING, June 4 (Reuters) - Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd (ICBC) , the world’s biggest bank by assets, said on Thursday it has opened a branch in Riyadh, becoming the first Chinese bank with a retail presence in Saudi Arabia.

ICBC’s Riyadh branch, which was opened on Wednesday, is the lender’s fifth branch in the Middle East, after Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and Kuwait, making it currently the biggest Chinese player in the region, according to a statement from the bank.

Saudi Arabia is China’s largest crude oil supplier globally and its biggest trade partner in the Arab region. China’s crude oil imports from Saudi Arabia rose nearly 9 percent year-on-year to around 18 million tonnes in the first four months of this year.

While China has traditionally been a low-key player in the Middle East, despite deep energy and trade ties, it has started to take a more active approach in diplomacy, helping evacuate foreign nationals from Yemen in April, for example.

Saudi Arabia is also an important destination for Chinese investment and a major project contracting market.

Reporting by Shu Zhang, Judy Hua and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell