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Sino-Arab ties prompted Saudi-Iran Deal

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By Dr. Shehab Al-Makahleh

It seems that the decision to restore relations between Tehran and Riyadh stems from the keenness of each of them not to move forward in escalating regional positions and to block the way for major countries to play a role in fueling the political conflict between the two Middle Eastern capitals. Chinese officials’ visits to the Middle East region have sensed the readiness of the two countries to reach an end to the state of regional instability. Will the major powers allow this, and Israel, to do so?

The return of relations between Riyadh and Tehran means the increasing presence of China in the Middle East. The move was important for Beijing, which is trying to increase its influence in a region heavily dominated by the United States. As a result, China continues to strengthen its economic and military presence around the world, and Chinese officials hope to achieve progress in the détente between Riyadh and Tehran to obtain economic and military benefits in which the Chinese army will have a presence in the Gulf region, which is a major strategic waterway for the flow of oil.

Sino-Arab relations have recently been undergoing one of their most harmonious, cooperative and coordinated historical stations at all levels after Beijing had introduced itself as a pivotal player and one of the influencers in shaping and moving the compass of the international community because of its economic and military influence. Most of the news dealing with the Chinese file was confined to the economic dimension; things have changed today dramatically after the Chinese mediation in the file of the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement and after the diplomatic role that it has recently played to ease tension in Ukraine based on a 12-point agreement with Russia. Chinese President Xi Jinping took his new Ukraine-Russia agreement to Moscow a few days ago.

While the list of precedents abounded with many indicators including the remarkable influence in Syria, Yemen, Egypt and the Gulf as well as involvement in the Palestinian cause in particular and the Arab-Israeli conflict in general, a qualitative shift has been adopted in Beijing’s orientations to resolve international political files. This sudden shift in Chinese foreign orientations was based, of course, on the geopolitical developments witnessed by the global map, which repositioned many international powers, especially after the United States temporarily gradually pullout out of (the Middle East and the Gulf).

The pillars of Chinese policy towards the Middle East rely on certain principles that it had approved in 1954 with India and Myanmar, and is the main basis for Beijing’s relations with various countries of the world, namely: Mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in internal affairs, equality, mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.

On the Arab and Middle Eastern level, the relationship with China is governed by several political and legal measures that clearly outlined the features, levels and most prominent lines of that relationship, most notably: the “Vision and Action Plan” that included the “Belt and Road” initiative in 2015, the “China Policy Document towards Arab Countries” and in 2016,  the “Chinese-Arab Executive Declaration” in 2018.

Beijing’s principles to deal with the countries of the Middle East in light of the three previous initiatives are summarized in the following:

First, moving away from alignment in dealing with crises and the tendency towards non-interference in the internal affairs of states in order to avoid falling into the quagmire of biases. China is keen to enhance cooperation with Arab and Middle Eastern countries according to the principle of mutual benefit as it has a package of gains that it would like to achieve from those countries that represent a large market and one of the important paths for the success of the “Belt and Road” project.

Second, the pragmatism of dealing with countries as the Chinese side does not care about the identity or ideology of the regime that rules in any country. Therefore, it has no problem opening channels of communication and enhancing cooperation with every country with no exception, based on the slogans raised by China on the priority of its foreign policy.

Third, supporting the stability of the countries of the Middle East, especially those in which there are significant Chinese interests because any possible shock to those countries may endanger their interests as to what happened to Libya when Beijing did not object to UN Security Council Resolution No. 1970, which opened the door to Western intervention. This has endangered China’s economic interests, leading to the change of the regime of President Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, a lesson that the Asian giant learned well and applied in all arenas in which it is fighting its battles today. On the other hand, the Middle Eastern countries find in the Chinese giant a logistical power with a huge international presence and influence that achieve balance in the face of the unipolar world.

China documents the strategy that defines its relationship with the Arab countries through its paper published on the website of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which came under the title “China’s policy document towards the Arab countries” and started it by referring to historical background of the relations between the two parties. Those relations extend for more than two thousand years, and its most prominent title was peace and cooperation.

The history of modern diplomatic relations between the Arabs and the new China dates back to the period between 1956 and 1990, a period that witnessed the independence of the Arab countries from foreign colonialism, when the two Arabs and China entered a distinguished era of diplomatic cooperation, as Beijing was firmly supporting Arab national liberation movements, and firmly supporting the struggle of Arab countries in order to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity, restore and preserve national rights and interests, and confront external interference and aggression, and firmly support Arab causes in developing their national economies and building the country, and in return, the Arab countries provided strong support to China in restoring its legitimate seat in the United Nations.

During the past six decades, bilateral cooperation between the two sides has achieved historical leaps, and has even become a model to be followed in South-South cooperation. The international arena has paved the way for improving relations between Arab countries and China despite the crises and fluctuations at the regional and international map. Beijing’s principles to deal with Middle Eastern countries lies in these initiatives: Moving away from alignment when dealing with crises and the tendency towards non-interference in the internal affairs of other states to avoid falling into the quandary of predispositions.