THE unexpected thaw between Saudi Arabia and Iran is a major diplomatic triumph for China. In a rapprochement mediated by Beijing, the two archrivals, which had been engaged in a bitter proxy war in the Middle East for the past several years, have agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations and ease tensions.
The agreement demonstrates the growing assertion of China’s clout in one of the world’s most volatile regions. It also highlights the changing global order, with China playing a bigger role on the world stage.
The détente comes at a time of increasing rivalry between the two superpowers America and China, which threatens to push the world towards a new Cold War. Many analysts describe the agreement signed by the two sides in Beijing last week as an indication of waning US influence in the region. The deal may not bring an end to the deep-rooted rivalry between the two regional powers but it can certainly end discord and open the way for a peaceful resolution of conflicts in the region.
The two countries have agreed to re-establish diplomatic ties and reopen their respective missions within two months. The agreement also affirmed “the respect for the sovereignty of states and the non-interference in internal affairs of states”. Significantly, the trilateral statement released in Beijing last week has also mentioned the 2001 security agreement and the broader 1998 cooperation agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Tehran and Riyadh have been locked in a fierce battle for supremacy in the Middle East region for decades. The two have been fighting proxy wars in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. But the intensification of the civil war in Yemen turned into a flashpoint over the last few years, threatening a wider regional conflagration.
The Saudi-Iran détente comes at a time of increasing rivalry between America and China.
While Saudi Arabia has supported Yemen’s government forces, the Houthi rebels have been backed by Iran. The Yemeni civil war spilled over into Saudi Arabia, with rebel forces targeting oil facilities inside the kingdom. The two countries severed diplomatic ties in 2016 after Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shia cleric, leading a mob in Iran to ransack the Saudi embassy there in protest. That also ended cooperation between the two countries in various fields.