The Middle East awaits Chinese peace

The re-establishment of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, agreed on Friday in Beijing, represents a blow to Chinese diplomacy.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
15 March 2023 Wednesday 15:55
9 Reads
The Middle East awaits Chinese peace

The re-establishment of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, agreed on Friday in Beijing, represents a blow to Chinese diplomacy. But its potential beneficiaries are in the Middle East.

Among which Yemen stands out, where Riyadh is looking for an honorable way out of its unfortunate military intervention. The détente could have equally salutary effects in a Lebanon on the brink of bankruptcy, in a torn and rebuilding Syria or in an Iraq where the sectarian scars of so many years of war have not closed. Countries, all of them, where Sunnis and Shiites have often been instrumentalized by the regional ambitions of Arabia and Iran, respectively.

While some observe the paradigm shift with hope, others, such as Israel, the United States, the Emirates and India, appear more unsettled.

China, for its part, has shown that it does not intend to remain closed in the China Sea. Shortly after his vague peace plan for Ukraine was scorned by Washington and Kyiv, President Xi Jinping was scrambling to make history in the Middle East on the first day of his third term. That region from which the US has been trying to escape for a decade with a "pivot to Asia".

Beijing has already announced another summit for this same year, in which it will bring together Iran with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. And Tehran is already talking about restoring relations with Bahrain as well.

Heavenly music in Lebanon, where the financial collapse is no stranger to the inhibition of Riyadh, its traditional advocate, irritated by Hizbullah, a Shiite force aligned with Tehran. Less belligerence would relieve Beirut, which has been without a president for six months and many more with an interim government.

The detente may also facilitate the re-incorporation of Bashar al-Assad's Syria into the Arab League, if he moves. Talks between Syria, Russia, Iran and Turkey, godfather of the Sunni rebels, will resume tomorrow - in Moscow.

However, the apparent pacification could actually hide anticipation for more violence. "Both Riyadh and Tehran need a de-escalation to avoid a military reaction in the event that Israel decides to attack Iran", explains Mustafa Numan, former deputy foreign minister of Yemen, to La Vanguardia.

Of course, Numan believes that Iran "can push the Houthis - who control Sana'a and the most populated part of Yemen - to accept a long-term truce - now suspended - and to get involved in the peace plan of the UN". Likewise, he does not see the Emirates, which directly or indirectly occupy Aden and Socotra, being an obstacle: "This would only exacerbate tensions with Saudi Arabia."

The prospect of Saudi Arabia and Iran reopening their respective embassies quarantines some of the scripts in circulation until recently, such as a possible nuclear agreement between Riyadh and Washington.

Just a fortnight ago, a Benjamin Netanyahu besieged by the protests in Israel, could still say: "If we expand the circle of peace in Saudi Arabia, I think we will end the Arab-Israeli conflict".

The reality is that China is the number one customer of both Saudi and Iranian oil. And the region is now more strategic for Chinese industry than for the largely self-sufficient United States.

"China must actively participate in the reform and construction of the global governance system", as well as promoting "global security initiatives".

While the waters around Taiwan are being stirred, the Chinese president announces that in a week, "at the latest", he will meet with Vladimir Putin in Moscow, once again marking differences with the West.

While the spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Minister goes further and goes on the offensive: "the US considers 13 years of war in Syria to be too few and continues to illegally occupy its territory and loot it".

However, whether the financial muscle – the only one that China has in the region, unlike the US – can be sufficient remains to be seen.