As RedState reported on Friday, Iran and Saudi Arabia have reached an agreement to restore diplomatic relations after seven years. The deal was brokered by China, which appears to be flexing its diplomatic muscle in addition to its economic might.
Under the deal, Saudi Arabia and Iran will reopen embassies and missions within two months and a summit will be held shortly between their foreign ministers. But the Saudi-Iran deal isn’t the only item on China’s Middle-East agenda. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Beijing will host “a high-level gathering of Gulf Arab monarchs and Iranian officials” sometime in 2023. Citing “people familiar with the plan,” WSJ notes that a broader summit between Iran and the Gulf Cooperation Council (consisting of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) is on track for later in the year.
Mr. Xi’s diplomatic initiative shows that Beijing sees a central role for itself as a new power broker in the Middle East, a strategic region where the U.S. has been the most influential outside player for decades. No longer focused exclusively on energy and trade flows, China’s foray into the region’s politics signals a new chapter in competition between Beijing and Washington.
Indeed. And in case the signal was at all unclear…
The restoration of ties finally came together last week in secret talks in Beijing, where in a sign of China’s growing influence, all parties agreed not to use English in the negotiations, with speeches and documents conducted in Arabic, Farsi or Mandarin, according to people familiar with the talks.
Loud and clear. Perhaps even loud and clear enough that President Biden will get the message. Of course, this is the same Joe Biden who famously proclaimed in 2019 that China was no competition for us.
“China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man. They can’t even figure out how to deal with the fact that they have this great division between the China Sea and the mountains in the east, I mean in the west. They can’t figure out how they are going to deal with the corruption that exists within the system. I mean, you know,they’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what, they’re not competition for us.”
And the same Joe Biden who just a month ago, during the State of the Union address, defiantly dared his audience to “Name me a world leader who’d change places with Xi Xinping — NAME ME ONE! NAME ME ONE!”
Meanwhile, Xi appears quite content to remain in the role.
Indeed, the announcement regarding the Iran-Saudi Arabia deal and the report of the Beijing summit almost appear timed to punctuate Xi’s assumption of his “unprecedented” third term.
The deal allows Chinese leaders to “advance perceptions of their own global role, and they undermine the U.S. contention that a U.S.-led rules based order is the only responsible choice governments can make, and the only way to advance security,” said Jon Alterman, a Mideast expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
And while nations like Iran and Russia feel the pinch of U.S. sanctions, China appears poised to press its advantage.
China is the biggest importer of Iranian oil and has significant economic leverage there. Before Friday’s announcement, China allowed Iran to tap parts of funds in Chinese banks–which total $20 billion–that were frozen when the U.S. left the nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions in 2018, Iran’s Mehr semiofficial news agency reported.