Wen Jiabao started his six-day visit to three Middle-East countries on January 14.

The Chinese premier is visiting Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar. The visit comes at a time when the US is mounting pressure on all major countries to impose sanctions against Iran's energy industry. The sanctions are intended to stall Iran's alleged nuclear weapons programme.

Although the Chinese officials have not clarified if Jiabao would press Arab leaders to increase oil supply to China, it is believed that the visit is likely to initiate more cooperation in their energy industries.

The Chinese government has not yet reacted to US sanctions against Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp, a Chinese state-run oil company, for trading with Iran's energy industry. However China's state-run TV has described US claims that the company supplied more than $500 million refined oil between July 2010-January 2011 as "fictitious".

Meanwhile, the Japanese foreign minister met Saudi Arabian and UAE officials this week and urged them to increase oil production. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on January 13 said that another round of talks would be held with US diplomats before announcing drastic cuts on fuel imports from Iran.

Earlier Japanese finance minister Jun Azumi assured a visiting US official that Japan would immediately boycott oil from Iran.

Analysts, according to a Wall Street Journal report, believe that US allies particularly Saudi Arabia might pressurise China to impose sanctions against Iran, as Saudi Arabia also views Tehran as a regional threat.

All the three countries are key allies of the US and also major suppliers of oil.

Saudi Arabia's oil export to China has consistently increased over the years. Qatar is also a leading supplier of liquefied natural gas to China.