Q&A: What role did China play in negotiating the Iran-Saudi detente?

BEIJING: The detente between Tehran and Riyadh last week was all the more surprising given that the third party served as mediator: China.
China – a longtime partner of Iran that sees Saudi Arabia as its main source of foreign oil – has welcomed a deal aimed at easing years of diplomatic stalemate between the Middle Eastern rivals. It was an unusual role for Beijing, which has rarely used its influence as the world’s second-largest economy to penetrate global hotspots.
While Washington’s absence from the talks raised questions about US leadership, China’s involvement seemed to mostly involve providing neutral ground after the talks were already well advanced. Here’s what we know so far:
1. What role did China play?
Beijing has provided the physical site for representatives of both parties to strike the deal, which comes weeks after Chinese President Xi Jinping held face-to-face meetings with the two Saudi crown princes. Mohammad bin Salman and Iranian leader Ebrahim Raisi.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi presided over the opening and closing of the talks, which resulted in a tripartite statement announcing the decision to restore diplomatic ties, including reopening diplomatic missions within two months. Iran and Saudi Arabia also agreed to implement a security cooperation agreement which was signed early last year.
2. What does this mean for China’s diplomatic clout?
The deal helps bolster China’s reputation as a responsible actor on the world stage, following accusations by the United States over its human rights practices and military designs toward Taiwan. Wang described the agreement as a “victory for dialogue and peace”. But there is also widespread skepticism: many observers have said it will take time to see if the pact holds.
Beijing does not have a long history of negotiating groundbreaking agreements. His 2017 Myanmar peace proposal was never successful. More recently, China’s plan to end Russia’s war in Ukraine has been widely rejected by Western governments who have questioned Beijing’s ability to be an honest broker, especially given the relationship ” without limits” between Xi and President Vladimir Putin.
3. What does this mean for Xi’s global ambitions?
Xi has long sought to create an alternative world order to challenge the United States and its allies, and the Tehran-Riyadh deal helps him show that Washington doesn’t have to be at the center of major geostrategic breakthroughs.
Initially focused on building economic ties through his historic Belt and Road infrastructure loan program, a key part of Xi’s strategy now includes expanding China’s diplomatic influence to countries in the Middle East, Latin America and Africa. On the world stage, the Iran-Saudi Arabia deal could give China more credibility with countries in these regions.
4. Who benefits politically from the agreement?
As well as bolstering China’s diplomatic credentials and potentially lowering the temperature between two well-armed rivals, the deal gives the three nations involved the chance to show you can work things out without the involvement of the United States. what China and Saudi Arabia have been keen to demonstrate.
Iran – still under sanctions for its nuclear program and criticized for its crackdown on protesters – said it hoped the deal would help it restore ties with more Arab countries. Economically, this could benefit both Iran and Saudi Arabia by attracting more Chinese investment. And the deal could even help foster peace in Yemen, torn apart by a civil conflict that has been seen as a proxy war between Tehran and Riyadh.
Yet the deal also strikes an interesting balance for Crown Prince Mohammed, who has helped shift his economy more to Asia while mocking US criticism of his country’s human rights record. male. But Saudi Arabia still relies on American firepower for its military, a reality that is unlikely to change any time soon. And the deal jeopardizes a fragile working relationship the Saudis – tacitly backed by Washington – have built with Israel, which still sees Iran as enemy No.
5. How did the United States react?
While some analysts have said the deal shows Washington’s influence is shrinking in a region where it has long played a vital role, the reality may be less clear. The United States has almost no direct communication with Iran, so mediating between Tehran and Saudi Arabia would be an unlikely role.
That said, the White House has said it would welcome the deal if it helps end the war in Yemen. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, however, added that “it really remains to be seen whether Iran will live up to its obligations.”


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