Iran-KSA Deal Strengthens China's Global Influence

Iran-KSA Deal Strengthens China's Global Influence
The historic isolationism of China in the Middle East came to an end in the early 1980s. Prior to this, Beijing was preoccupied by concerns about survival and nation building. Later, it eagerly started meddling in the politics of the oil exporting countries, realizing the threat posed by the major powers who had bolstered their claims to the Persian Gulf. The narrow waterway between the Arabs and Iranians - the countries better famous for the historic sectarian rivalry, remains a major channel through which a significant chunk of the world’s oil supply flows through on super tankers.

The latest development in the tricky geopolitics of the region have jolted key players, when arch rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia decided to reengage with each other diplomatically. The reproachment came just after the several rounds of talk held in Beijing under the supervision of the Chinese foreign minister and state councillor Wang Yi.

The relations between the GCC countries were abrogated when Iran expelled Saudi diplomats in 2015 after the Kingdom hung a prominent Shia cleric. Since then, Saudi Arabia was partnering with United States against Iran, acting as an offshore balancer in the region. The rivalry intensified with their sub-proxies in the region in the form of the Yemeni Houthis supported by Iran and Kingdom’s sponsored groups aimed to topple the Shia Assad government in Syria.

Despite having a meek history in peacemaking, Xi’s China has emerged as a debutante in brokering a peace deal among arch rivals. The move has proven to be a masquerading fact for the global players in the region, such as United States and Israel. Scholars point towards the void left by the United States in the region, due to their belligerent approach, which has provided space for China to act more assertively. On the other hand, China holds a key stake in the region, which helped Beijing in convincing Tehran and Riyadh in their trick test move. Reflecting back to Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye’s Complex Interdependence of 1970s, the idea of mutual dependence can better explain this breakthrough in the global politics.

China has always remained dependent on the crude from the GCC countries. MBS’s Saudi Arabia is the largest exporter of crude oil to China for the last 5 years. China’s infrastructure investment across the country and beyond depends greatly on an uninterrupted oil supply. Beijing is also facing United States as a great challenger in its upsurge across the globe. And Washington’s extensive influence on Saudi Arabia could prove drastic for its global ambitions and growth. On the other hand, Beijing has also signed a US$ 400 billion deal with Iran, which will be spent on different infrastructure projects over 25 years. The entente was lucrative, not only for China but also for Iran which is under isolation due to severe American sanctions. The current diplomatic reengagement with KSA will reduce Iran’s isolation and help in building a cooperative environment in the region. China is also seeking its influence across the world, and the deal will help immensely in giving air to its aims and ambitions. Meanwhile, its infiltration in the Russo-Ukraine conflict will also build influence in the world. The Chinese government has confirmed President Xi’s video call with his Ukrainian counterpart. Under the guise of win-win cooperation and shared destiny, Beijing promotes peace and prosperity which paves the pathways of its secure investment.

On the other, Saudi Arabia, under its de facto ruler Muhamad Bin Salman seems reluctant acting as an offshore balancer for US against Iran in the region especially after they were called a “pariah state”. This is no more a hidden fact that MBS is not a good friend of Joe Biden, and even refused to lower the oil prices and increase its supply when the American President himself travelled to Riyadh. It is also interesting that Riyadh is actively undermining the influence of Washington in the region and thinking about ways to achieve an an independent foreign policy. Meanwhile, the deal will also help the Kingdom to solve the problem of the Houthis, who launch missile attacks on Saudi oil supplies frequently.

Iran was encircled by American juniors in the region. Western countries were continuously asking the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel after UAE did in 2020. The reestablishment of diplomatic ties with Iran will eliminate the prospect of Saudi Arabia recognizing Israel.

After the Abraham Accords and Middle East Peace Plan, the region has witnessed another geopolitical game on its soil. But this time, it is Beijing which has taken the lead as a peace broker.

The deal has significantly altered the global or regional order specifically, signalling a sharp increase of Beijing’s influence. After India in South Asia, US is on the verge of losing its junior partner in the Middle East. Meanwhile, China on the other has been sweeping geopolitics through offering an attractive economic vision to the world.

The writer is a Research Assistant at Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies.