The normalization process between Saudi Arabia and Iran seems to have changed course in the wake of China’s arrival. It is believed that the recently inked deal between Riyadh and Tehran would dramatically change Middle Eastern geopolitics. Due to stringent sanctions, Tehran had been cut off from mainstream regional politics until China’s arrangement was mediated. Saudi Arabia is also quite optimistic that the agreement would stop additional attempts to harm its regional interests.
The overall consensus on the significance of the alleged contract is largely divided since no specifics regarding the latest arrangement have been reported in the media. Some claim that the development is substantial and will greatly impact the area. This is the first time China has replaced the US in the region’s agreement-broking process. The US acted as the only party to broker the agreements from the Camp David Agreement in 1978 through the Abraham Accords in 2020. However, given the entrenched conflicts in the area and the intricate geopolitics of the Middle East and West Asia, this specific event won’t mean much for some people. However, the sustainability element under Chinese supervision is crucial since the US and other European nations’ track records of meditating in the area have been dismal. So, the million-dollar issue is whether China can guarantee the longevity of the Saudi-Iran agreement.
Three factors—increasing pressure on the Iranian government, the appearance of chilly relations between Riyadh and Washington, and third, the US’s lackadaisical attitude towards the region—were responsible for the success. Tehran’s annoyance is understandable given the country’s terrible economic situation, which has led to several rallies, including the most recent one over Masha Amini’s murder, in which US media, in particular, played a devil’s advocate.
Be aware that Beijing was neither a negotiator nor a guarantor before looking for a response to the specific point presented above. Instead, it helped the two sides communicate to resolve an agreement pending since 2016. Second, the agreement shouldn’t be considered a victory for China over the US in a conflict. Instead, three factors—increasing pressure on the Iranian government, the appearance of chilly relations between Riyadh and Washington, and third, the US’s lackadaisical attitude towards the region—were responsible for the success. Tehran’s annoyance is understandable given the country’s terrible economic situation, which has led to several rallies, including the most recent one over Masha Amini’s murder, in which US media, in particular, played a devil’s advocate. Likewise, the two years of strained relations between Riyadh and Washington contributed to laying the groundwork for US replacement. Washington’s obsession with the conflict in Ukraine is primarily to blame for the US’s lackluster attitude to the Middle East and, in particular, the warming relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In light of this, China’s involvement amid escalating doubts over the rapprochement of Saudi Arabia and Iran was not unexpected.
On the other hand, China has long been worried about tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran since both nations are Beijing’s main trading partners, and a settlement between the two bitter foes would be in the best interests of Beijing’s fundamental regional economic interests. Beijing’s current position, however, is essentially the same as Islamabad’s during the US-China reconciliation in 1971, which was confined to arranging meetings between the two nations and had little effect on changing their hostile to amicable ties. China also used its clout to persuade Riyadh and Tehran to negotiate. However, it would be premature to assert that Beijing could usher in a new era in bilateral ties given that normalization is a difficult and protracted process, with the latest agreement just marking the beginning of a long and arduous journey.
China has long been worried about tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran since both nations are Beijing’s main trading partners, and a settlement between the two bitter foes would be in the best interests of Beijing’s fundamental regional economic interests.
Realistically, China had an easier time persuading Iran and Saudi Arabia since Beijing was not just a friendly neighbor but also a non-partisan one. Furthermore, Beijing was better able to broker a deal between the two regional rivals because of its economic might. Beijing, however, typically lacks both the political will and the capacity to cope with the intricate sectarian, religious, and ethnic conflicts in the area, making it difficult for normalization to continue. One can only hope that proxy politics in the area, especially in Yemen, will lessen. However, it’s also crucial to understand that, in addition to Saudi Arabia and Iran, most regional confrontations include other possible parties and non-state players. For instance, the fight in Yemen is mostly between Yemenis who are split into many factions, some acting independently to carry out the orders of Riyadh and Tehran. Because of this, the settlement is not simple. For a domestic solution to be reached, that would be acceptable to Yemenis as well, Riyadh and Tehran must collaborate. Here, China’s limited sway over a number of possible Saudi-Iran nexus parties might restrict its potential position as a mediator. Furthermore, China can be inadvertently drawn into the Middle East’s geopolitical quagmire if Riyadh and Iran fail to resolve the complaints of the many parties engaged in ongoing crises.
In conclusion, the future viability of the Saudi-Iran deal largely depends on three variables:
- How effectively Beijing responds to difficult circumstances.
- How much practical flexibility do Iran and Saudi Arabia show in their rigid positions?
- How the region’s geopolitics changed in response to US and Israeli future Middle East policies.
However, it is up to Riyadh and Tehran to protect the normalization process from outside interference. On the other hand, China has amicable connections with Riyadh and Tehran and will continue to push them to maintain their good relations even if the accord comes to an abrupt conclusion.
China can be inadvertently drawn into the Middle East’s geopolitical quagmire if Riyadh and Iran fail to resolve the complaints of the many parties engaged in ongoing crises.
Since normalization is a difficult and drawn-out process, greater support and recognition from regional and extra-regional nations is essential since China cannot guarantee the longevity of the Saudi-Iran agreement on its own. Pakistan’s contribution is essential to achieving Beijing’s goals since Islamabad has often given its good offices and attempted to defuse tensions between the two nations. The normalization process may also go smoothly if the US provides encouraging assistance.
Research Scholar and Academic; Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Pisa, Italy. Dr. Usman has participated in various national and international conferences and published 30 research articles in international journals.