Commentary: China's Role in Mediating Saudi-Iran Tensions: Opportunities and Challenges
By staff commentator Gavin Rafferty
PC: Andrea Piacquadio
China helped broker a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore diplomatic ties in March 2023. The deal was signed in Beijing, and it is seen as a major diplomatic victory for China. The deal could help reduce tensions in the Middle East and could also boost China's influence in the region.
China's position on the ongoing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran has largely remained neutral, as it maintains diplomatic relations with both countries. Historically, China has adhered to a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, instead focusing on building economic ties with both Saudi Arabia and Iran.
However, as a major world power and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China could play a role in facilitating diplomatic talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran. China has increasingly sought to expand its influence in global affairs and has positioned itself as a mediator in conflicts such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In recent years, China has also shown a growing interest in Middle East affairs, as demonstrated by its hosting of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing in 2017, which was attended by several Middle Eastern leaders.
Nevertheless, mediating between Saudi Arabia and Iran would be a complex and challenging task, given the long-standing regional rivalry and ongoing proxy conflicts between the two countries. Any successful mediation effort would likely require sustained and genuine efforts from both Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as the involvement of other regional and international actors. This includes countries such as Russia, the United States, and European Union members, as well as organizations such as the United Nations and the Arab League.
It is also important to note that China's involvement in Middle East affairs is primarily driven by economic interests, as the region is a major source of energy and a key market for Chinese goods and services.
While China may have the potential to play a role in mediating between Saudi Arabia and Iran, its interests in the region are primarily economic rather than political or ideological. Therefore, any mediation efforts by China would likely be driven by a desire to maintain stability and protect its economic interests, rather than by a pure commitment to resolving the underlying tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
China's efforts, regardless of its intentions, align with the global aspiration to mitigate conflict and pursue peace in the volatile Middle East. The value of this cannot be understated; it has a highly positive significance and comes highly recommended.