Few regions are as geopolitically explosive as the Middle East. Last week’s agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, under which they agreed to re-establish embassies in each other’s capitals and renew a security cooperation pact, marks a major victory for diplomacy. Yet just as important as the deal itself is the identity of the actor who facilitated it: China.
The deal, announced on the same day that President Xi Jinping was formally elected as China’s head of state for a third term, is a geopolitical statement in itself, indicating that Mr Xi’s position is growing from strength to strength not only domestically but also internationally. After all, over the years, Beijing’s global rise has drawn a warning from observers, who have questioned the Chinese Communist Party’s willingness to get its hands dirty trying to resolve tangled international disputes, as all great powers have in history. done through.
And, indeed, the country’s leaders have long been sitting back and watching their rival, the United States, get bogged down in several costly crises around the world. Meanwhile, China has focused its power projection largely on economic muscle and, more recently, on security deals, rather than using diplomatic rivals to talk each other down.
The Iran-Saudi Arabia deal marks a decisive break with that previous track record, which has profound implications for the Middle East, China and the world. For more than half a century, the US has been the pre-eminent broker in the Middle East, wielding its hand in determining which of the three central poles of the region will be dominant relative to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Is.
Others, even its bombs, bullets and missiles wreaked havoc. Yet in the region, its credibility has declined with frequent imperialist wars, failed diplomacy, and a reluctance to adhere to the principles of human rights and democracy it claims to uphold. Unlike the US, China is seen as a fair player in the Middle East, with Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran all seeking stronger ties with Beijing.
It has now used that position to help put together a historic deal. Yet it is too early to say whether China can replicate this success in other global hotspots, or even whether the Riyadh-Tehran deal will survive pressure from the many forces that seek to thwart it. Winning is easy when few people expect it to be. The real test of Chinese diplomacy.