Table of Content
- Old rivalry
- China is in advantageous position
- Changing bilateral equations
The Saudi-Iran settlement in a China-brokered agreement reflects the changing dynamics in West Asian geopolitics.
Old rivals are shaking hands, and Beijing is ready to play a bigger role at this time when USA attention has been shifted towards Ukraine and the Indo-Pacific.
Analysts view China’s attempts to negotiate a deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia as indications of a significant “shift in the global order.”
In Beijing, an agreement was reached between Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore their diplomatic ties and reopen their embassies within two months. The agreement included a commitment to respect the sovereignty of states and refrain from interfering in their internal affairs.
Images and video were shared by Iranian state media that showed Ali Shamkhani, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, and Musaad bin Mohammed al-Aiban, the Saudi National Security Adviser, shaking hands while China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, stood between them.
Wang stated that “China would play a constructive part in resolving problems and demonstrate its responsibility as a significant nation”.
The different political systems, in Iran which are governed by a Shia theocracy, and Saudi Arabia, which is an absolute monarchy with a Sunni majority, have played a significant role in driving conflicts within the region.
In 2016, the relationship between the two Gulf countries was cut off after a prominent Shia Muslim scholar was executed by Saudi Arabia, leading to protests in Iran. During these protests, the Saudi Embassy in Tehran was attacked by demonstrators.
Both countries support rival groups in the war in Yemen, with the Houthi rebels receiving support from Iran and Riyadh supporting the government to counter the Houthi rebels.
However, after the newly signed agreement, Iran has agreed to prevent an attack against Saudi Arabia, and both countries have shown a willingness to restore full diplomatic ties that were severed in 2016.
As the USA has deprioritized West Asia and shifted its focus towards Ukraine and countering China in the Indo-Pacific, its allies in West Asia have started showing the cold shoulder to the USA and have started looking for new opportunities in re-aligning relations with new partners.
China is in advantageous position
China’s advantageous position to facilitate an agreement originates from the United States’ strained relations with Iran. China has been involved in peace talks in the Iran nuclear deal of 2015, from which the US under the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew in 2018. Till now, the deal is in limbo.
China’s engagement in this activity offers a high potential for gains while posing a relatively low risk, as the Chinese are not bound to any specific outcome.
The improvement of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran is beneficial for China, as Beijing is the world’s biggest importer of oil, thus, peace and stability in West Asia become crucial for China.
Changing bilateral equations
China is expanding its dragon wings at lightning speed. The country is preparing for all eventualities. The language used by China today is among the harshest and most direct.
China has directly warned the USA to limit its intentions to suppress and contain China and warned western countries to stop encircling China in the Indo-Pacific.
Saudi Arabia, to accelerate growth and development, wants its vicinity to remain stable and peaceful. And to restore peace, Riyadh has trusted China and not its old friend the USA.
Iran, which is under US-imposed sanctions, wants economic freedom and to restore diplomatic ties with other countries. Thus, Tehran is enjoying its newly found friendship with China and its shared hatred of the US.