The longstanding rivalry between Riyadh and Tehran appears to be drawing to a close, with recent diplomatic developments prompted by China’s proactive leadership in the Middle East. In 2016, both nations suspended their ties following an attack on Riyadh’s Embassy in Tehran. However, through Chinese efforts, KSA and Iran have successfully entered into negotiations, leading to an end to their animosity. This is a significant development that not only promotes peace in the region but also serves the interests of Beijing. China’s increasing involvement in the Middle East is reflected in its success in bringing these two Middle Eastern rivals to the negotiation table. Beijing’s recent negotiations with KSA for BRICS membership further demonstrate its growing influence in the region. The implications of China’s rising influence, along with the restoration of diplomatic ties between Tehran and Riyadh, are worth considering. How this normalization of relations between KSA and Iran can change the regional politics? How much influence can China exert in the Middle East, and what impact will this have on Washington and its allies in the region? Will China’s involvement make the Middle Eastern QUAD feeble, and how might it affect the global order led by Washington? These are important questions that require further analysis.
The recent reconciliation between two Muslim powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, marks a historic milestone in the Middle East’s quest for peace and stability. This significant breakthrough signals the end of longstanding rivalries and proxies that have plagued the region for years. The impact of this rapprochement cannot be overstated, as it represents a definitive halt to the Cold War-like situation that has been prevalent in the Arab world. The United States has played a significant role in the tensions between these two powers, with its historically interventionist policies in the region. US support for Israel and opposition to Iran led to the formation of a strong alliance with Saudi Arabia, intensifying the rivalry between the two Muslim powers. However, this latest development presents a unique opportunity for the US to reassess its approach to the Middle East. Contrary to it, China as a formidable global power and one of the US’s primary contenders, has also been increasingly active in the region since 2013. China’s policy towards the Middle East is markedly different from the US’s interventionist stance, instead emphasizing peace and stability. The recent restoration of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran on March 10, 2023 presents a promising opportunity for China to further its interests in the region by supporting efforts towards reconciliation and stability. The reconciliation between these two arch-rivals has numerous implications for the region, including the possibility of a more neutral stance from the Saudi government towards Iran’s rivalry with the US and Israel. Additionally, the potential for conflict escalation in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon is greatly reduced by the reduction of tension between these states. In short, the ending of this rivalry between two Muslim powers represents a phenomenal breakthrough that offers significant prospects for peace and stability in the region.
Though the recent diplomatic breakthrough between Saudi Arabia and Iran has brought an end to their longstanding rivalry, but it also signals the potential beginning of a new Cold War in the Middle East between the superpower US and the rising power China. This normalization of relations has significant implications for Israeli and US interests in the region. However, China’s involvement in the Middle East may also serve as a bridge between Saudi Arabia and Iran, facilitating cordial ties and potentially changing the regional order. In recent years, China has implemented a proactive foreign policy towards the Middle East that challenges the US influence in the region. Consequently, to counter China in the region US laid the foundation of Middle Eastern QUAD with India, Israel and UAE as main partners. Contrarily, contemporary Chinese approach towards the region and its success in bringing these two Middle Eastern rivals to the negotiation table can render the recently-formed Middle Eastern QUAD, led by the US and its allies, irrelevant. The restoration of diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia suggests that the KSA may need to pursue a more neutral stance in its relationship with Iran. Consequently, Iran may need to rely solely on its own resources to counter any threats posed by the US and its allies. However, China’s proactive involvement in the Middle East and its alignment with Iran may offer a potential source of support for Iran in its struggles against the US and Israel. This development suggests that China is establishing its own regional order in the Arab Region.
Moreover, China’s emergence as a mediator in this deal has been viewed as a significant blow to US global leadership. The US’ loss of its traditional role as a global policeman has been underscored by China’s increased influence in the region, and signals a decline in US political power in the international arena. In contrast, China’s growing role as a global leader suggests a potential shift towards a more diplomatic approach to conflict resolution, in contrast to the US’ history of interventionism. This highlights a possible changing of the guard in global politics, with China poised to take on an increasingly important role in shaping international relations.
This diplomatic breakthrough brings to light other important considerations that must be taken into account. India had proposed the construction of the Chabahar port in order to sideline Pakistan and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). However, Iran ultimately agreed to allow China to extend the CPEC to the Chabahar port. In addition, this is also notable that shift in Chinese policy towards Iran also occurred under Xi Jinping’s leadership in 2013, who is also the founder of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It is possible that China facilitated this deal in order to further the development of the BRI in the region. The successful extension of CPEC to the Chabahar port would not only bolster China’s regional presence but also enable it to exert a greater influence on the world’s critical choke point, the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20-30 percent of global oil flows. This move would not only restrain the Middle Eastern QUAD but also thwart India’s plan to construct the Chabahar port and establish regional connectivity with the Middle East and Central Asia. Such a development would further enhance China’s reputation as a strategic player in the region and elevate its stature as a global power.
One of the most pressing concerns that arises when examining the contemporary politics of the Middle East and Chinese involvement in the region is the possibility that China can compel Iran to join the BRICS alliance. Compared to Saudi Arabia, which has a good relationship with US, bringing Iran into BRICS could be easier, as it is already ideologically aligned with the Sino-Russian bloc. If Iran joins BRICS, in addition to Saudi Arabia, both states would have the ability to export oil in currencies other than the US dollar, thereby diluting the power of Petro-dollars and potentially disrupting the economic order of the US. The present scenario prompts significant inquiries concerning the prospects of global economic and political power dynamics, particularly regarding the durability of the Washington-led Global Order which remains susceptible to the emergence of a Chinese-led order, and highlights the need for continued analysis and dialogue on these complex issues.