DUBAI - Kuwait's new emir Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Sabah on Thursday appointed Sheikh Mohammed Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah as the country's prime minister, the state news agency reported.

Thee OPEC member with the world's seventh-largest oil reserves is expected to preserve key Kuwaiti foreign policies, including support for Gulf Arab unity, Western alliances and good ties to Riyadh - a priority relationship.

Kuwait may also look to expand ties to China as it seeks a bigger role in the region, especially after Beijing sponsored a deal that normalised ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia in March.

Kuwait will have to grapple with long-running strains between the ruling family and its critics in the perpetually deadlocked and fractious parliament that critics say have hindered fiscal and economic reform.

Kuwait's legislature wields more influence than similar bodies in other Gulf monarchies. The resulting political deadlock has for decades led to cabinet reshuffles and dissolutions of parliament.

(Reporting by Maha Al Danan; Editing by David Goodman and Alex Richardson)