Timeline, views on Saudi-Iran decision to resume ties from Chinese officials, experts, and int'l think tanks
"From the very beginning, President Xi Jinping has given clear-cut support [for the talks]"
If you're feeling like you've had enough of the "Two Sessions" reports, don't worry because I've got another topic for you today.
As announced by China, Saudi Arabia and Iran on Friday, the latter two have reached a deal which includes the agreement to resume diplomatic relations and reopen embassies and missions within two months.
The latest talks between Riyadh and Tehran in Beijing came months after Chinese President Xi Jinping's separate meetings with leaders of the two countries. In December 2022, Xi paid a state visit to Saudi Arabia at the invitation of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia. Last month, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi paid a three-day state visit to China at the invitation of Xi.
On Friday, Wang Yi, director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, told the media that the Beijing dialogue had been advanced on the basis of the consensus among the leaders of China, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
"From the very beginning, President Xi Jinping has given clear-cut support [for the talks]," said Wang, also a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, according to CGTN.
"This is a victory for dialogue, a victory for peace," said Wang, adding that it has provided a piece of "significant good news" for today's turbulent world and sent a clear signal.
In addition to the Ukraine crisis, there are many issues related to peace and people's livelihood that require the attention of the international community and need to be properly dealt with by the parties involved in a timely manner, he said.
Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran in early 2016 in response to the attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran after the kingdom executed a Shiite cleric.
The two countries have agreed to restore diplomatic relations and reopen their embassies and missions within a period not exceeding two months, and agreed to hold talks between foreign ministers to arrange for the exchange of ambassadors and explore ways to strengthen bilateral relations, according to a trilateral statement from China, Saudi Arabia and Iran released on Friday.
Both Saudi Arabia and Iran extended their appreciation and thanks to Iraq and Oman for hosting multiple rounds of dialogue between 2021 and 2022, and to Chinese leaders and the Chinese government for hosting, supporting and contributing to the success of the talks, the statement said.
On Saturday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson made remarks on Saudi Arabia-Iran Talks in Beijing.
I want to stress that China pursues no selfish interest whatsoever in the Middle East. We respect the stature of Middle East countries as the masters of this region and oppose geopolitical competition in the Middle East. China has no intention to and will not seek to fill so-called vacuum or put up exclusive blocs. China always believes that the future of the Middle East should always be in the hands of the countries in the region. China always supports the people in the Middle East in independently exploring their development paths and supports Middle East countries in resolving differences through dialogue and consultation to jointly promote lasting peace and stability in the region. China will be a promoter of security and stability, partner for development and prosperity and supporter of the Middle East’s development through solidarity. China will continue to contribute its insights and proposals to realizing peace and tranquility in the Middle East and play its role as a responsible major country in this process.
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Your Ginger River also notes from the WeChat account of China MFA's Department of West Asian and North African Affairs titled 中东瞭望 "Middle East Outlook" that a number of senior Middle East staff met with countries around the region and UN in the past few weeks. He won't be surprised if some argue that these are China's likely behind-the-scenes efforts leading to the trilateral agreement.
On March 2, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang met with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on the sidelines of the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in New Delhi.
On March 2, 殷立军 Yin Lijun, the Charge d'Affaires of the Chinese Embassy in Saudi Arabia, published a signed article titled "Global Security Initiative: China's Solution to Breaking the Security Deficit" in the Saudi newspaper Riyadh Daily. The article introduced China's recently released "Concept Paper on Global Security Initiative", elaborated on China's responsibilities in maintaining world peace and its determination to safeguard global security. It stated that China is willing to work with Saudi Arabia and other peace-loving countries around the world to jointly address various traditional and non-traditional security challenges and create a better future for all humanity.
From March 5 to 7, 张明 Zhang Ming, the Secretary-General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), was invited to lead a delegation to make an official visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran in Tehran. [Note: On 27 November 2022, the Iranian parliament approved Iran's membership to the SCO.]
On March 7, 翟隽 Zhai Jun, the special envoy of the Chinese government on Middle East issues, visited Russia and met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov and Russian Special Representative for Middle East Settlement Affairs Safronkov to exchange views on regional hot issues such as the situation in the Middle East and the Palestinian issue.
On March 9, the special envoy of the Chinese government on Middle East issues, 翟隽 Zhai Jun, met with United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, in Jerusalem to exchange views on the Palestinian issue.
On March 9, the special envoy of the Chinese government on Middle East issues, 翟隽 Zhai Jun, visited Israel. He had a courtesy meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Cohen and held talks with Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Lev and Deputy Director-General Hapaz on bilateral relations and the Palestinian issue.
2. Views from Chinese experts
Wu Sike, former Special Envoy on Middle East Issues and senior researcher at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China
Wu Sike: The resumption of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran will not only benefit the two countries, but will also have a positive impact on regional stability and peace, as well as on the resolution of regional hotspot issues, including Syria and Yemen, and, more generally, will be constructive to the Palestinian and Israeli issues. At present, the Chinese government's special envoy for the Middle East is still visiting Israel, and pushing a new round of coordination with the UN, showing China's consistent policy and unremitting efforts in the Middle East.
The Middle East issues are historically formed, and the current situation does not allow a blanket solution to all problems. We still need to continue our work. However, it is a general trend and desire of people from all nations to promote the region towards stability, peace and common development. Chinese diplomacy is riding trend and will continue to make contributions in promoting regional peace in the future.
Behind the results and surprises reflects the long-standing efforts of Chinese diplomacy. China has been consistent in the Middle East in urging peace and promoting talks, advocating that regional countries should resolve their conflicts and differences and establish good relations through mutual respect and dialogue. China has put forward many constructive ideas in promoting peace talks among Middle Eastern countries, including the Global Security Initiative proposed by President Xi Jinping and promoting the establishment of a dialogue platform among Gulf countries.
Not only do we have ideas, but China has also done a lot of practical work. Ambassador Wu [Notes: Wu served successively as Chinese Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2000 to 2003 and Ambassador to Egypt from 2003 to 2007] recalled that there is a saying in dealing with Middle Eastern countries: "Neighbors cannot be chosen, but what can be chosen is how neighbors get along with each other." Successive Chinese diplomats have often used this saying to promote peace talks among Middle Eastern countries, and actively used their good offices to promote the Middle East peace process within the framework of the United Nations. The success of the peace talks between the two countries is, as Director Wang Yi said, "a victory for dialogue and a victory for peace.”
[Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies published an article on Saudi-Iran decision to resume ties and a review of its exchange with official institutions and think tanks in Saudi Arabia and Iran on its WeChat account on Saturday, which includes the interview with Wu Sike.]
Professor Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at Renmin University of China
Wang Yiwei: The agreement reached between Saudi Arabia and Iran is also unprecedented in that it is a reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites. Previously, the United States could at most make Middle Eastern countries stop being so hostile towards Israel. Short-term peace, however, was achieved through military output, selling weapons, foreign aid, and other "carrots and sticks," and true peace was not achieved.
The conflict between Sunnis and Shiites, has been further exacerbated into further disasters by the United States' reckless interference in Iraq in recent years and now in the Middle East ... It [the agreement] proves that "Chinese medicine" can solve problems that "Western medicine" can not. The fact that these two major Middle Eastern countries were able to shake hands and make peace may open up new possibilities for solving many Middle Eastern issues in the future.
The United States' extreme sanctions against Russia on the Ukraine-Russia conflict completely disregarded the rule of law and honesty. This, coupled with the competition between the US and OPEC countries in international energy in recent years, has caused doubts among pro-American Gulf countries represented by Saudi Arabia. Iran, the traditional enemy of the United States, thinks that the United States has inherent hegemony.
There are vast differences between China and the United States in diplomacy, mainly manifested in the following three points:
China is based on the concept of "harmony," promoting lasting peace and common security. The United States, on the other hand, is based on the concept of "divide and conquer," with clear goals, creating an enemy if there is no enemy, and creating conflicts by using contradictions between regional countries.
China's "Belt and Road Initiative” emphasizes "connectivity", equal dialogue among countries, and respect of diversity in the world. The United States, because of the push of interest groups behind it, belongs to the "alliance system," emphasizing direct conquest and control.
China's multilateralism is the true multilateralism, considering issues from other’s perspectives, rather than conquering and controlling. The United States, on the other hand, is pulling Europe together to deal with Russia and Middle Eastern countries to deal with Iran, all of which are serving its own strategic interests.
Both Iran and Saudi Arabia hope to apply to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the BRICS. China's multilateral diplomacy will show its true openness and tolerance.
Wang Zaibang, former vice president of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations
Wang Zaibang: Saudi Arabia and Iran are both major oil-producing countries, and their reconciliation is beneficial for the long-term stability of the global energy market.
The restoration of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran signifies a major step towards peace and stability in the Middle East. It is beneficial to the overall easing of the Islamic world in the Middle East, and also conducive to the political resolution of conflict issues such as Yemen. It is beneficial to the geopolitical stability of the Middle East and West Asia.
After the mediation of China’s leaders, Saudi Arabia and Iran has put aside their differences and decided to restore diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level. This is also a victory for China's proactive diplomacy, marking a new stage in China's diplomacy. Saudi Arabia and Iran broke off relations a few years ago due to religious friction. China's mediation has led to the reconciliation of the two countries, which is a logical result of China's efforts to befriend both countries at the same time.
China, in dealing with countries that have conflicts, will not profit from using their conflicts like some countries do. Today, China has promoted the reconciliation of the two countries, demonstrating China's new image of taking the initiative to resolve conflicts and create peace. It also shows China's unprecedented diplomatic confidence and international influence.
[The interviews with Wang Yiwei and Wang Zaibang were conducted by 每日经济新闻 National Business Daily (NBD) and were published in an article on its WeChat account on Saturday.]
3. View from international think tanks:
Adnan Tabatabai, CEO of the Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient, a Germany-based think tank
Adnan Tabatabai told Al Jazeera that China has a big interest in not seeing the regional security situation “descend into chaos”, such as “in 2019, when the waterways of Hormuz were the sites of different explosions and attacks”.
“There are inherent interests for the Chinese to try and use the leverage that they have towards both Tehran and Riyadh to make some efforts to balance these relations and finalise what the Iraqis and Omanis had in fact started,” Tabatabai said. -- Al Jazeera
Vali Nasr, professor of Johns Hopkins-SAIS, former senior advisor, State Dept.
Hussein Ibish, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
“The fact that it has been agreed to in Beijing is very significant for China and its rise as a diplomatic and strategic player in the Gulf region,” said Ibish. “This does seem to recognize China’s unique role in being able to broker relations between Tehran and Riyadh, stepping into a position that had previously been occupied by European countries, if not the United States, and this will not be particularly pleasing to Washington.” -- CNN
Michael Stephens, associate fellow at London’s Royal United Services Institute
“This is a serious moment in which the region itself and the two biggest powers in the region acknowledged the influence, the diplomatic presence, and the leverage of Beijing as their key arbiter in the region,” he said, noting that this is the first such instance for China as a mediator in the Middle East.
“Now, that doesn’t mean that the U.S. is losing influence,” he said, pointing to the fact that the U.S. still has a far bigger military footprint than China in the region and its relationship with Israel is much stronger than Beijing’s.
“That is all understood, and nobody is challenging the power of the U.S. and what it could do,” he said. “What they are challenging is the notion that the U.S. is leading. And that it’s the only game in town.” -- CNBC
Dr. Annelle Sheline, research fellow at the Quincy Institute
4. Some other reports
The deal signals a sharp increase in Beijing’s influence in a region where the U.S. has long been the dominant power broker, and could complicate efforts by the U.S. and Israel to strengthen a regional alliance to confront Tehran as it expands its nuclear program. It comes as the U.S. has been trying to broker a peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, an effort now clouded with uncertainty.
China in recent years has built closer economic ties with Iran and Saudi Arabia, both of which are important suppliers of oil to the world’s second-largest economy. But this bridge-building effort is the first time Beijing has intervened so directly in the Mideast’s political rivalries.
For the United States, the agreement signals that it cannot take for granted the pre-eminent influence it once wielded in Saudi Arabia — an ally that is charting a more independent diplomatic course — and elsewhere, as China, a rising superpower, builds trade and diplomatic relations around the world.
President Biden’s White House has publicly welcomed the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran and expressed no overt concern about Beijing’s part in bringing the two back together. Privately, Mr. Biden’s aides suggested too much was being made of the breakthrough, scoffing at suggestions that it indicated any erosion in American influence in the region.
Friday’s announcement is also a diplomatic victory for China in a Gulf region that has long been considered part of the US’ domain of influence. It comes as the Biden administration tries to notch its own win in the Middle East by trying to broker a normalization pact between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Talks had been ongoing since March 6 in Beijing between Iranian national security chief Ali Shamkhani, Saudi national security council adviser Mosaed Bin Mohammad Al-Aiban and China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, according to Iranian state media.
In case you’ve missed it, GRR has published a piece explaining China’s State Council reconstructing on March 7, a piece about Xi Jinping's first speech in this year’s “Two Sessions” on March 6 and a piece including the highlights of Li Keqiang's government work report on March 5. These articles are currently free to read, but there is no guarantee that you will not be required to pay to access them in the near future.