While China’s successful economic policies paved the way for a quick rebound there, the recession caused a deeper slowdown in the United States, slashing oil consumption by 10 percent from its 2005-7 peak. As a result, Saudi Arabia exported more oil to China than to the United States last year.
While exports to the United States might rebound this year, in the long run the decline in American demand and the growing importance of China represent a fundamental shift in the geopolitics of oil.
“We believe this is a long-term transition,” Mr. Falih said in a recent interview. “Demographic and economic trends are making it clear — the writing is on the wall. China is the growth market for petroleum.”