China’s recently brokered diplomatic deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia has generated a new debate in the world’s leading policymaking and intellectual circles. The deal between two decades-long rivals has surprised the whole international community and compelled the leaders of different nations to alter their traditional understandings of China’s role in world politics. Additionally, an agreement for the restoration of diplomatic ties between Saudi and Iranian state officials has become an unexpected scenario of Muslim world politics where Tehran and Riyadh are considered the two opposing powers with multileveled disagreements on different issues. The deal has let political leaders from around the world redefine the role of China in world politics beyond its traditional position in the international system which was purely restricted to the economic domain. Now, the deal between two Middle Eastern archrivals has proved that Beijing could be a good mediator and it could address the decades-long disputes between various states located in different regions.
The diplomatic opening between the Iranian and Saudi governments has shown the western power centers the strength of Chinese diplomatic forces in the world.
It has started conveying to the whole world Beijing’s role as an international dispute settler. Thus, there is no harm to say that China’s initiated Iranian-Saudi normalization process contains the substantial potential for transforming the regional politics of the Middle East.
The unexpected change in Middle Eastern regional politics cannot be divorced from its greater impacts on the contentious politics of various other regions where South Asia is not an exception. The position of China in South Asian regional politics is too strong due to the signing of its mega economic corridor project with Islamabad. Parallel to signing the corridor project with Islamabad, Beijing has multidimensional trading ties with New Delhi. Additionally, the economic cooperation between China and India has gone beyond conventional bilateral patterns of their interstate collaboration. The governments of both states have effective political communications under various other multilateral forums such as BRICS. Thus, Beijing’s trading bilateralism with both contestants of South Asia could lead Chinese state officials to consider the India-Pakistan conflict analogous to the Iran-Saudi rivalry. The global intellectual communities have already turned their attention toward the probability of China’s mediating role in South Asia by providing a negotiation table to Pakistani and Indian governments. In this scenario, the SCO’s South Asian extension could be treated as an appropriate platform to examine the prospects of China’s role as an effective mediator between Islamabad and New Delhi.
In contrast to the Iranian-Saudi hostility, the enduring rivalry between Pakistan and India cannot be spared from certain challenges where the nuclearized regional environment of South Asia is an undeniable reality and an irrefutable truth.
The regional security environment of South Asia is a major hurdle in brokering a peace deal between India and Pakistan.
Indian decision for acquiring nuclear weapon status in 1998 compelled Pakistan to take appropriate countermeasures, and the government of Pakistan decided to announce its nuclear weapon status in response to India. In post-nuclearized South Asia, New Delhi’s quest for placing whole regional politics under its hegemonic ambitions has transformed South Asian regional politics and started pushing whole regional politics towards surrounding oceanic waters. Indian quest for dominating the territorial and maritime affairs of the South Asian region has led New Delhi towards a policy of massive weaponization which leaves worse impacts on Pakistan’s security, parallel to intensifying the regional security environment of nuclearized subcontinent. The Indian government is keen on pursuing its policy of multi-alignment with different powers in the strategic domain and has actively joined multilateral strategic alliances in the maritime domain. The multiplying tendencies of New Delhi’s strategic engagement with different states from across the globe provide additional support to the Indian offensive position in its home region without estimating its effects on the values of peace and stability in the politics of a nuclearized region.
Therefore, in the presence of New Delhi’s increasing reliance on the expansion of its existing strategic capabilities, it is difficult to imagine the probability of Beijing’s role as a mediator in the India-Pakistan conflict. A rational approach is needed in this regard which required the Chinese government to take certain measures as the prerequisite to rationalize the idea of the Islamabad-New Delhi rapprochement akin to the Saudi-Iranian deal. One of the essential prerequisites is to tackle the strategic competition between the pair of South Asian nuclear powers in which India is the main trendsetter. Furthermore, as both nuclear weapon states of South Asia are still staying outside the NPT, thus, the greater responsibility will lie on the mediating power, or on the diplomatic potential of the mediator. The lack of support from the international nonproliferation regime will require the Chinese government to craft a trilateral negotiating mechanism between Beijing, New Delhi, and Islamabad before designing a peace deal for the South Asian region.
The author is an Assistant Professor, at the Department of International Relations, National University of Modern Languages (NUML), Islamabad.