Big nation power play behind China sewing up Saudi-Iran deal

The more plausible explanation for his West Asian initiative is Xi building the ground to replace Russia as the second pole in what could be Cold War II with the US.

Published: 12th March 2023 11:44 PM  |   Last Updated: 12th March 2023 11:44 PM   |  A+A-

Chinese President Xi Jinping. (File Photo | AP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping. (File Photo | AP)

By pulling off a stunning deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia on the day he formally began his third term as Chinese president, Xi Jinping apparently sought to lay the first brick for his legacy as a superpower peacemaker. By doing so, he expanded his geopolitical footprint in West Asia, the traditional stomping ground for the US. Putting Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia in the same basket is like placing cotton and a matchstick together. It is fraught with the risk of ignition due to friction anytime. The last time they became bitter rivals was in 2016, when Riyadh executed a prominent Shia cleric. Yet, Xi took a bet on the yearning to cool bilateral temperatures on both sides. His historic trip to Saudi Arabia last December, where he also addressed the Gulf heads of state, had announced his arrival as a counterweight to the corrosive US diplomacy in West Asia—including covert CIA operations—for its energy security.

China and Iran struggle to fight off harsh US sanctions, while Beijing is Riyadh’s biggest oil consumer. And Saudi-US ties are not as solid as they used to be. That said, Riyadh can’t expect Tehran to cease arming Houthi rebels in Yemen in the short run, so the danger of rogue drones attacking oil major Aramco, which has just posted a record $161 billion in profit, is very much alive. Curiously, the deal comes when Iran is this close to building a nuclear device as it already has 84% enriched uranium, just 6% short of bomb grade. In the last decade, the Saudi king demanded US bombing of Iran to kill its nuclear bomb programme.

Back to Xi, he is also peddling a peace formula for Ukraine that offers little clarity on the status of territories Russia is squatting on. The only supporters of the formula are Russia and its satellite Belarus. While Xi’s initiatives may appear laudable, the impression that he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing is not easy to shake off due to China’s aggressive territorial claims across its land and sea borders. No nation that disrespects international rules-based governance can be trusted to be a peace messiah. The more plausible explanation for his West Asian initiative is Xi building the ground to replace Russia as the second pole in what could be Cold War II with the US.

India Matters


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