The Bab Al Mandab strait in the Red Sea is a sea lane through which much of the world's oil is shipped
The world’s second-largest oil consumer is keen to secure supplies as its reliance on imported crude grows, while the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) wants to draw up a better picture of its appetite for oil.
Soaring demand last year caught out the group, forcing it to pump near full throttle and giving it little ammunition to fight high prices.
Producers say limited refining capacity, something over which it has scant control, has propelled prices.
Top exporter Saudi Arabia has since led other producers in asking consumers to provide a demand “road map” to help them meet future needs and justify billions of dollars in oilfield investment. But China is the key to any forecasts.
“They started to play a main role in the market and they even succeeded in changing the culture of the market in 2004 and 2005,” Opec President Shaikh Ahmad Al Fahd Al Sabah told journalists before talks he described as the group’s first with Chinese leaders.
“We started this dialogue to try to have some cooperation, especially for the future and to know what will be the situation of growth of demand in China,” he said.
Closer ties with China could offer Opec members better access to its fast-growing market.
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