EconomyTop Stories
GBO_Saudi Vision 2030

Saudi Vision 2030: How China brokered the peace deal between Kingdom & Iran

Saudi Arabia can't guarantee an Iranian constructive role, but it hopes China understands its Yemen position

Saudi, Iranian, and Chinese officials announced a deal in 2023 to resume diplomatic relations between the Gulf countries. After seven years of confrontation, the two nations resolved to settle their disputes using international principles and two bilateral agreements from 1998 and 2001.

Five days of intensive Beijing negotiations and two years of Saudi-Iranian closed-door talks in Iraq and Oman led to the breakthrough accord.

Much of the analysis has focused on China’s rising Middle East position amid global power struggles. Saudi motives go beyond hedging against US withdrawal or balancing major powers.

The Relevance Of China

This agreement demonstrates China and Saudi Arabia’s common understanding of international security and a rules-based order. This is an agreement on dispute resolution principles between two governments, not solutions.

The Sino-Saudi alliance has been based on values like nonintervention in other nations’ domestic affairs since 2006, as indicated in their joint declarations, UN actions, and China’s Global Security Initiative.

China mediated a long-running Saudi-Iranian Yemen dispute. Riyadh initially demanded that Iran “leave Yemen to Yemenis,” seeing Iran’s support for the Houthis as a major hurdle to de-escalation.

Over the past two years, the Saudi position has changed, and China helped broker a deal in which Riyadh consented to Tehran’s request to restore diplomatic relations before Iran stopped supporting the Houthis.

The public trilateral statement does not mention Iran, but its language and subsequent press reports confirm that Chinese mediation finally reached an agreement. Saudi Arabia can’t guarantee an Iranian constructive role, but it hopes China understands its Yemen position. Saudi Arabia is likewise banking on China’s stake in Beijing’s first regional diplomatic leadership exercise.

According to Saudi Arabia, China can guarantee Iran’s compliance with this trilateral procedure, unlike Oman and Iraq. Beijing has already delighted Riyadh by sending high-level Iranian security officers instead of diplomats, whom Saudi Arabia views as less in control of Iran’s regional actions.

Riyadh has long lacked the diplomatic and military instruments to drive Iranian security and military operatives, especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, into compromise. Chinese mediation may compensate for this shortcoming, but it puts Beijing in the spotlight if Tehran breaks its commitments.

Finally, Saudi diplomacy with Iran relies on Western and regional countries to compel Iran into a settlement based on failed experiences. China benefits from Riyadh’s scepticism as the first “sponsor”. It is the first world power to utilize its leverage with Iran to satisfy Saudi regional policy goals without calling them Chinese security efforts or a nuclear deal.

Beijing’s emphasis on regional ownership of this deal has two drawbacks. First, China portrayed itself as a “reliable friend of the two countries,” maintaining an equal distance. Even while it benefits from China’s leverage over Iran, Saudi Arabia doesn’t like this situation. China is likewise signalling its distance from the final decision, but promising it “will maintain its helpful role.” Chinese priorities in the Middle East are economic and security-related.

Saudi Vision 2030

De-escalation with Iran is part of Saudi Arabia’s ‘Vision 2030’ foreign policy to encourage socioeconomic development. The Kingdom is investing billions in the plan, and an escalation with Iran would imperil finance, deter international investment, and kill Saudi hopes of becoming a regional and global hub for cloud computing, logistics, trade, and industry.

China mediated when regional diplomatic and economic might favoured Saudi Arabia. High oil prices allow Saudi Arabia to advance its economic development objectives and double down on financial, “Saudi first” diplomacy to recover regional and international dominance.

Since 2018, Saudi leadership has revamped its foreign policy process, ended diplomatic disputes, and improved the international narrative on the Saudi role in the Yemen war. The United States is helping the Kingdom defend against Iran and its militias.

Israel is a de facto security partner in US Central Command, and its desire to normalize with Saudi Arabia threatens Iran. Saudi coverage of Iranian domestic upheaval and apparent private involvement in Iranian opposition media gave the monarchy a valuable bargaining chip.

Iran faces home protests crushing international economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation across the Gulf. These circumstances boost Iran’s demand for economic support from China and its richest neighbours like Saudi Arabia. Riyadh may think this is great, but Iran has a history of attacking its neighbours when regime stability is at issue.

Iran is also reportedly closer to obtaining weapons-grade enriched uranium, which would boost its deterrent and provoke its Gulf neighbour. China may economically and politically support a de-escalation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but it may not act if Tehran breaks it.

Key Takeaways

This agreement contrasts Saudi Arabia’s connections with China and Russia. The OPEC+ accord is Russia and Saudi Arabia’s main foreign policy deal. Russia’s offer to supply Iran with superior military weapons and cyber warfare capabilities in exchange for Iran’s drones, which it employed in Ukraine, threatens Saudi Arabia’s security.

The peace agreement gives Saudi Arabia a stake in diverting China from a Russia-Iran-China axis that could embolden Iran’s offensive behaviour in the region, help it avoid sanctions, and increase Russian and Iranian encroachment on Saudi Arabia’s oil market share in China.

Global power competition between the United States and China, Western shunning of Russia and Iran due to the Ukraine war and the Iran nuclear deal’s clinical death are already bringing the three countries closer. Saudi Arabia sought to avoid Western escalation with Iran, Russia, and China through the accord.

Finally, Saudis believe Iran has no place in the Arab world. This will be a way for Riyadh to go from defence to deterrence against Iran with US and Western assistance. Saudi Arabia is dealing with Iran pragmatically, saying, “We cannot get rid of them, and they can’t get rid of us.” Based on this rationale, Saudi Arabia seeks regulated cohabitation in the Gulf and rivalry and containment in Syria and Iraq.

Even if the two countries follow the Beijing principles, ending the confrontation with Iran will be difficult. Riyadh must balance Iran’s hopes for economic benefits from de-escalation with Saudi Arabia with US-led sanctions on commercial engagement with Iran.

It must also reduce spillover from Israel’s shadow war with Iran, Iran’s rivalry with the UAE, and Iran’s revolutionary guard and Iranian-backed militias across the region. The Riyadh and Teheran regimes appear intent on deeper cooperation.

Related posts

Netflix lays off 300 employees in the second round

GBO Correspondent

MENA Watch: Water, food & economic crisis in drought-stricken Morocco

GBO Correspondent

Amid row over its API price changes, Reddit now faces data theft

GBO Correspondent