The Iran-Saudi Arabia deal puts China in an unfamiliar global role

The Iran-Saudi Arabia deal puts China in an unfamiliar global role

BEIJING (AP) — Un Agreement to reestablish diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia has thrust China into a leading role in Middle East politics – a role previously reserved for longtime global heavyweights such as the United States and Russia. It’s another sign that China’s diplomatic influence is growing to match its economic footprint.

Under strongman Xi Jinping, Chinese diplomacy has become known for angry outbursts against the West, threats against Taiwan, aggressive moves in the South China Sea and a refusal to condemn Russia over Ukraine.

The deal reached in Beijing on Friday, under which both sides agreed to reopen their embassies and exchange ambassadors after seven years of tensions, showed a different side of Chinese diplomacy. Beijing last month hosted Iran’s president and appeared to play a direct role in the talks. He also traveled to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, in December for meetings with oil-rich Gulf Arab states that are important to China’s energy supply.

The deal was seen as a major diplomatic victory for China, as the Gulf Arab states perceive the United States to end its involvement in the Middle East.

“I think this is a sign that China is becoming increasingly confident in taking a more assertive role in the Middle East,” said Muhammad Zulfikar Rahmat, an Indonesian academic associated with the Washington-based Middle East Institute.

China’s economic interests increasingly draw it into conflict far from its shores. It is by far the largest customer for Middle East energy exports, while the United States has reduced its import needs as the country moves toward energy independence.

Chinese officials have long argued that Beijing should play a more active role in the region, said Jun Teufel Dreyer, a political scientist at the University of Miami who specializes in Chinese politics.

Meanwhile, US-Saudi friction “created a vacuum that Beijing was happy to step into,” Dreyer said.

China has invested heavily in regional energy infrastructure. It also occasionally contributes naval vessels to join anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia, although the US Navy has served as the main security guarantor for Middle Eastern waters since the 1980s.

In a statement on Saturday, DrChina’s foreign ministry quoted an unidentified spokesman as saying Beijing “does not pursue any selfishness.”

“China has no intention and will not seek to fill the so-called vacuum or establish an exclusive bloc,” it said in an apparent reference to the United States.

At the end of the official legislative annual session on Monday, leader Xi Jinping said China should “actively participate in the reform and construction of global governance” and promote “global security initiatives”.

The diplomatic victory comes as Washington sharply criticized China for failing to condemn Russian aggression and fomenting conflict with the US and NATO.

However, many Middle Eastern governments view China as a neutral party, with strong ties to both Saudi Arabia, China’s largest oil supplier, and Iran, which depends on China for 30% of its foreign trade and where China has pledged to invest $400 billion. More than 25 years. Iran, which has few export markets because of sanctions over its nuclear program, sells oil to China at steep discounts.

The deal “boosts Beijing’s ability to project an image of itself as a constructive actor for peace, which will help avoid accusations from the West that it is supporting Russia’s aggression in Ukraine,” said Taipei-based analyst Amanda Xiao. International Crisis Group.

“This shows that China is trying to manage foreign diplomacy competition with the United States, and not just in its immediate area,” said Wang Lian, a professor of international relations at Beijing’s prestigious Peking University. The successful talks show that the two countries “put their trust in China,” Wang said.

China created special envoy positions for the Middle East in 2002, focusing on Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Although China sells drones and other weapons to countries in the region, it does so nowhere on the scale of the United States and without political conditions.

Earlier, China had moved aggressively to build relations in the South Pacific, signing a Security Treaty with Solomon Islands That will see Chinese naval vessels and security forces take up presence in the country. The United States, Australia and others moved quickly to strengthen ties in the Pacific, and China’s efforts to forge similar agreements with other island nations eventually foundered.

After a norm-breaking third five-year term in power, Xi appears more confrontational with the West than ever, his foreign minister warned just days ago. “Conflict and Confrontation” with the United States in the Future

However, this strain of tough-talking “wolf warrior” diplomacy is largely reserved for developed countries seen as rivals, while China has been “remarkably diplomatic” with others, Miami’s Dreyer said. Shutting out the largely democratic West, China is willing to forge closer ties with authoritarian regimes from North Korea to Nicaragua.

Although China is active in UN peacekeeping operations, Beijing’s previous efforts at third-party mediation have been stymied by the weight of its political baggage. A Recent Chinese proposals Calls for a ceasefire and peace talks between Russia and Ukraine have gone nowhere.

It is too soon to tell whether the deal will bring lasting improvement between the two long-time adversaries, much less stability in the Middle East. None of their fundamental conflicts seem to be discussed.

But for Saudi Arabia, the deal could facilitate its search for an off-ramp from its proxy war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. And for Iran, it could contribute to greater regional stability while internal problems escalate.

Not everyone is happy with the deal.

Under political pressure at home, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened military action against Iran’s nuclear program as it becomes more enriched than ever before to weapons-grade levels. Riyadh takes a potential ally off the table for accommodation with Tehran.

It was unclear what the development meant for Washington, whose Middle East presence has dwindled since the end of its withdrawal from Iraq and its growing power amid independence.

However, the White House bristled at the idea that the Saudi-Iran deal in Beijing suggests that Chinese influence could replace that of the United States in the Middle East. “I would vehemently push back on the idea that we’re going backwards in the Middle East — far from it,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

That Saudi Arabia struck the deal without Washington shows it is “looking to diversify its security bets and not rely entirely on the United States,” John Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote in a note on the deal.

“The US government is of two minds on this matter; It wants the Saudis to take increasing responsibility for their own security, but it doesn’t want Saudi Arabia freelancing and undermining US security strategies,” Alterman wrote.

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