Beijing plays constructive role in brokering Saudi-Iranian agreement

Pilgrims to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, travel last year on a Chinese-built light rail system. — XINHUA
Pilgrims to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, travel last year on a Chinese-built light rail system. — XINHUA

By Jan Yumul

Published: Mon 27 Mar 2023, 10:25 AM

Experts have explained the credit given to China for helping Saudi Arabia and Iran resume diplomatic relations.

They said that Beijing continues to play a crucial and constructive leadership role in the quest for world peace, demonstrating China’s position as a major power. As a trusted and honest broker in ending the impasse between Saudi Arabia and Iran, China has enabled Riyadh and Teheran to realise that despite their differences, they have much in common, the experts said. These commonalities will benefit those who have long sought leadership to develop the region’s potential and accommodate its diversity, they added.

In an agreement announced by China, Saudi Arabia and Iran on March 10, the two Middle Eastern countries agreed to resume diplomatic relations and reopen embassies and missions within two months.

The agreement ended a seven-year rift between Riyadh and Teheran.

Ebrahim Hashem, former adviser to the chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Office and former head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company’s strategy division, said, “The fact that (Saudi Arabia and Iran) have accepted China as their trusted broker shows that both sides believe in China’s capacity and genuine intentions to help reduce the temperature in the region.”

By approaching Beijing and officially referring to the “noble initiative” of President Xi Jinping, Saudi Arabia and Iran are “giving credit to China, and the way the agreement was announced shows that both sides” believe in China’s positive contribution to regional and global stability”, Hashem said. “The agreement that has been brokered by and announced from Beijing sends a clear message to the world that the Middle East is not the exclusive sphere of influence of anybody and that regional players have the agency and ability to hold their fate in their own hands.” Farhan Mujahid Chak, associate professor of political science at Qatar University, said China played a crucial role in bringing the two countries together by “acting as an honest broker and pragmatically offering incentives to both nations”. “China’s Belt and Road Initiative is ambitious and extraordinary. It can only get stronger with Iran and Saudi Arabia on board,” Chak said, adding that the initiative also shows the “increasingly global leadership role exemplified by China”.

“The zero-sum and prejudicial policies that plague the region (the Middle East) have not contributed to peace, prosperity or progress. Therefore, it was only a matter of time for the leaderships of both countries (Saudi Arabia and Iran) to realise that despite all their differences, they have much in common, and working together will benefit everyone,” Chak said. The trilateral statement issued on March 10 said Saudi Arabia and Iran had held talks to resolve their differences through dialogue and diplomatic means, to abide by the purposes and principles of the charters of the United Nations and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and to follow international regulations and practices.

The two countries also extended their appreciation and thanks to Chinese leaders and the Chinese government for hosting, supporting and contributing to the success of the talks, the statement said.

Deniz Istikbal, an economics researcher at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, a think tank in Ankara, Turkiye, said that China, which has invested more than $200 billion in Western Asia, has taken a stand for stability in the region.

“This stand draws attention to bilateral relations and cooperation. Compared with other players, China is striving to stabilise the region,” Istikbal said.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan told Arabic-language media organisation Al-Arabiya that the rapprochement was the result of two years of talks. Mehran Kamrava, a professor of government at Georgetown University in Qatar and also head of the Iranian Studies Unit at the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies, said the announcement is a major diplomatic breakthrough on several fronts, as it significantly reduces tensions in the Arabian Gulf and stabilises the region.

Seyed Mostafa Khoshcheshm, former professor at the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s Faculty of International Relations, said that since Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi took office, his main agenda has focused on improving foreign trade, and this could only be done by de-escalating tensions with regional rival Saudi Arabia. After his visit to China last month, during which he met President Xi, Raisi said his trip had been “successful and fruitful”.

“The latest round of (Saudi-Iranian) talks demonstrated a more assertive stance by the Chinese on the world stage,” Khoshcheshm said. Wang Jin, associate professor at the Institute of Middle East Studies at Northwest University in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, said China plays a crucial external role in the Middle East, which is what countries in the region want to see.

The tripartite statement highlights the importance of dialogue in achieving peace, Wang said, adding, “China’s concept of peaceful diplomacy will increasingly gain recognition globally, and will also make significant contributions to regional and international peace.” Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan, executive director of the Centre for South Asia & International Studies in Islamabad, said China’s increased presence in the Middle East will create “win-win” situations for all.

“It seems that China will also continue to play a constructive role in properly handling regional and international (disputes) in accordance with the wishes of all countries, and demonstrate its responsibility as a major power.”

China’s concept of peaceful diplomacy will increasingly gain recognition globally, and will also make significant contributions to regional and international peace.” — Wang Jin, Associate Professor at the Institute of Middle East Studies at Northwest University

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