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China-brokered Saudi-Iran peace deal: Sign of new world order

In a dramatic development that is likely to upset decades-old ally Washington, sectarian arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, in a trilateral agreement with China have announced to put their years-long differences aside and reset diplomatic ties to normal by opening their embassies in respective capitals within two months, in Beijing. This historic and first-ever peace deal brokered by China shows its intention and resolve as a peacemaker, not a dealmaker. Under this deal, both countries also agreed to reboot the security cooperation agreement signed in 2001 and the economic, trade, investment, technology, science, and culture agreement signed between the parties in 1998.

The other hallmark of this deal is all three countries Saudi-China-Iran pledged to work together to promote regional and international peace and security. This peace deal is very significant for both China and the Middle East as some observers have started to see it as a sign of a new dawn of the new world order.

Growing Chinese influence

The grand entry of China into the Middle East is a result of its long diplomatic efforts under China’s Global Security Initiative, which is President Xi Jinping’s flagship project that proposes an alternate global security order. Until recently, China’s relationship with the Middle East was primarily focused on its energy needs and Belt and Road Initiative – a multi-trillion-dollar global project. But after 9/11, the security situation in the Middle East has grossly been compromised, which poses a more significant challenge to the BRI’s success. The region has many key connecting points for the BRI routes as well as a major market for China. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar have signed 5G network services agreement already with the Chinese telecom giant Huawei. China needed to cement its ties and ensure peace and stability in the region by bringing warring factions to the negotiation table to secure its multi-billion dollar projects. The Saudi-Iran peace deal is the result of this thinking process which fructifies now after almost two years of secret negotiations at different places.

On the economic front, China is the single largest investor and trading partner to 11 Middle Eastern countries now. Bilateral trade between Saudi Arabia and China reached US$87.3 billion in 2021 which makes China the largest trading partner of Saudi Arabia. The region supplies China with more than 40% of its energy needs. And over the last few years, Beijing has already increased its political, economic, and security footprints in the region with massive projects financing and investments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, Iran, Oman, and Djibouti.

The breakthrough peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran is expected to impact the region positively and end the yearlong conflict in Yemen soon. Once the China-brokered peace and stability prevail and the Middle East comes under the purview of China’s ambitious BRI project, the major sway of trade routes in entire Southeast Asia will fall under Chinese influence. This is why the Global Security Initiative with a special focus on the Middle East was launched.

New dawn in the Middle East

Riyadh and Tehran have been through bad phases in their relationships for the influence in the Middle East and other regions. In almost every conflict in the Middle East, the two countries were on opposite sides providing support to warring factions. From civil war in Syria to Yemen, Bahrain to Lebanon, and Qatar to Iraq, the conflicts are primarily a political and economic struggle exacerbated by religious differences and sectarianism in the region engineered by their adversaries to safeguard their own interests. Saudi’s frustration with the US was growing for a long time. But in Yemen and Syria, it seems to reach the tipping point where the US-led dubious coalition neither helped Riyadh win the war nor overthrow the Asad regime. Instead, they cleverly dragged Saudi into a years-long regional war that has no end even today.

Some media reports also suggest that the inhumane treatment of the Palestinians at the hands of the far right-wing Israeli government in Tel Aviv over the last few months have also angered the rulers in the region. Rulers in the Middle East have now probably realized that they were falsely led to fight others’ wars as their own and become the ultimate losers of the dirty game.

Since the US meddling in these countries has only brought more chaos and destruction, the China-brokered peace deal is seen as a significant change in the foreign policy of the Kingdom in particular and the Middle East in general. Now they found Beijing a reliable partner who can be trusted and play a constructive role in resolving the conflicts that engulfed the region for decades. It is also visible that Saudi Arabia has realized its mistake of putting all the eggs in one basket and started to move away by signing 34 energy and investment deals worth US$30 billion with President Xi in Riyadh last December. They are also considering trading oil in the Chinese currency Yuan – a move that is likely to dent US dollar dominance in international trade.

If the Saudi-Iran peace deal comes through and bears its fruits then it will change the political climate in the Middle East positively where Saudi Arabia stands to regain its lost pride in the Muslim world.

Lesson for India

India-China bilateral relations have historically been peaceful for years, but harmonious relations developed a crack in mid-2017 when two armies clashed at the Doklam plateau over a long-standing border dispute. Since then, the relations have become very volatile. India, instead of resolving it bilaterally, turned to the unpredictable US which was waiting for a long to have India under its influence to checkmate emerging China. New Delhi needs to understand that the US foreign policy always revolves around “America First”. Anything that comes their way has repercussions regardless of how important an ally is. Saudi Arabia turning away from its decade-old ally is the clear writing on the wall.

New Delhi should know it can’t live in Rome and fight with Pope. If Russia can shun the grudge of the cold war it had with Pakistan and rebuilds their relations; if sectarian arch-rivals Saudi Arab and Iran can join hands and work together, then what stops India to follow the example of its time-tested friend Russia?

In the emerging new world order of the Asian Century, it is in India’s interest to revisit its foreign policy afresh and maintain its clout as an economic and military power in the region, or else the road ahead would become bumpy.

China-brokered Saudi-Iran peace deal: Sign of new world order

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