China’s Role In Saudi-Iran Deal: What Will It Bring To The Middle East?
After recent discussions in Beijing, Saudi Arabia, and Iran declared on March 10 that they had struck a Chinese-brokered deal to reestablish official diplomatic relations. The two nations revived a security cooperation agreement inked 22 years ago in Tehran by Saudi Arabia’s then-Interior Minister Prince Naif.
Iraq and Oman, together with China, played critical roles in promoting talks between Saudis and Iranians, which helped to this diplomatic conclusion. Beginning in April 2021, officials from Riyadh and Iran met in Baghdad and Muscat for numerous rounds of discussions.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have now agreed to maintain “respect for state sovereignty and non-interference in domestic matters.”
Both countries’ embassies, which shuttered in early 2016, will reopen within two months.
The accord covers many main points of contention between Riyadh and Iran.
Iran has agreed to stop assisting the Houthis to launch cross-border strikes against Saudi Arabia.
Is China becoming a rising peacemaker?
Wang Yi, China’s senior diplomat, welcomed the accord as a “win for discussion, a triumph for peace.”
He also remarked that, aside from the Ukrainian Conflict, there are global issues that deserve the international community’s attention.
This Saudi-Iranian agreement, as well as an Iran-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) conference anticipated in China later this year, demonstrate Beijing’s expanding influence in the Middle East.
While China has spent decades avoiding Middle Eastern crises and refusing to mediate in them, Beijing has now spotted a chance to enter the area.
China has exploited the void created by the US as a mediator.
By refusing to take sides in the Saudi-Iranian war, China has emerged as a player capable of resolving problems rather than just selling weapons to opposing parties.
“This [Saudi-Iranian accord] might be the first evidence that China has begun to adopt a more aggressive stance worldwide, especially in the Middle East,” said Dr. Jacopo Scita of the Bourse & Bazaar Foundation in London.
Consequences for American interests
In light of President Xi Jinping’s visit to the Gulf in late 2022, US officials have grown increasingly concerned about GCC states moving closer to China and viewing Beijing as an easier power to work with than Washington, even if China replacing the US as the Gulf Arab monarchies’ security guarantor is not yet conceivable.
Because of Beijing’s participation in the Saudi-Iran accord, the diplomatic establishment in Washington is likely to be more concerned about the future of Sino-Saudi relations.
This was a low-risk, high-reward mediation for China.
Focusing on fostering Middle East stability for the Belt and Road Initiative’s (BRI) future and guaranteeing its oil supply, China saw this as a golden chance to fill a hole and impose more influence through diplomatic methods.
There is a risk in exaggerating the magnitude of China’s victory.
At this point, it is unclear how much this Beijing-mediated agreement between Riyadh and Iran would strengthen China’s image as a diplomatic heavyweight in the Middle East.
Much will be determined by how Saudi-Iranian ties evolve in the next weeks and months.
Yet, if this diplomatic deal results in a considerable reduction in tensions between Saudis and Iranians, China will have every incentive to be more proactive and confident in its diplomatic influence in the Middle East.
Under such conditions, in which the agreement between Riyadh and Tehran lowers temperatures in the Gulf and beyond, China will be able to demonstrate that its balanced relations with virtually all of the region’s actors, as well as their trust in Beijing, make it a constructive actor in the arena of Middle Eastern diplomacy.
The Biden administration determined early on that America’s alliance structure represented a significant asset in its global great power fight with China.
As a result, rather than withdrawing from the Middle East, America ought to embrace its allies there even tighter and be even more subservient to their needs and desires.