We live in a world that is dominated by concepts that are imposed by an Anglo-Saxon understanding of the world. The most important indicator of this is the names given to geographical regions. For example, while the region we now call the Middle East is the Near West for India, the region called the Far East may be called the Near East for Pakistan. But the naming of these regions arose during the Pax Britannica period of the British Empire and became popular under the Anglo-Saxon dominance of international relations.
Yet, the world is now undergoing a major transformation. As we witness the dawn of Asia and the rise of China, our view of geography may be changing. This new paradigm centered on East Asia may lead to the region we call the Middle East today being called the Middle West in the near future.
The signs of this new world order have become even more evident with China’s successful mediation in restoring diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The problems between the two states had been a source of tension in the Middle East for many years. Thanks to China, the problems between the two countries seem to be nearing a solution. Finally, the foreign ministers of the two states met in Beijing, and a whole new era has begun for the Middle East with the re-establishment of diplomatic relations. Let’s take a look at the main reasons for the problems between the two states.
Sources of the Conflict
With a long history of political, economic, and religious rivalry, Saudi Arabia and Iran are two major powers in the Middle East. A complex mix of factors, including ideological, geopolitical, and economic interests, underlie these differences.
The main areas of conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran include the following.
Regional influence and power: Saudi Arabia and Iran are the two major powers in the Middle East and are competing with each other for regional influence and power. Conflicts and proxy wars in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq have resulted from this competition.
Sectarian divide: Saudi Arabia is a predominantly Sunni country, while Iran is a predominantly Shiite country. This religious divide has helped fuel the rivalry between the two, with each accusing the other of threatening their respective sects.
Economic Interests: Both Saudi Arabia and Iran are major oil-producing countries. They compete for control of oil markets. This competition has been a source of economic tension between the two countries.
Political ideology: Iran is an Islamic republic with a Shiite theocracy, while Saudi Arabia is a conservative Sunni monarchy. These differences in political ideology have contributed to the rivalry between the two countries.
Foreign Policy: Saudi Arabia and Iran have different priorities and approaches to foreign policy. While Iran has a more independent foreign policy and is seen as a regional power, Saudi Arabia is closely aligned with the United States and other Western countries. These differences have led to conflicts and tensions between the two countries.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have been engaged in a series of conflicts and proxy wars throughout the Middle East over the past several decades. Competition for regional influence and power has been a major source of conflict. Saudi Arabia, with its vast oil reserves and strategic location in the region, has been in pursuit of its dominant position in the region. On the other hand, Iran has sought to challenge Saudi Arabia’s hegemony and establish itself as a regional power.
The Saudi-Iranian conflict has been particularly intense in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. In Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition has been fighting the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. The conflict has led to a humanitarian crisis. Thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced. In Syria, Iran has been a supporter of the government of President Bashar al-Assad, while Saudi Arabia has been a supporter of opposition forces. In Iraq, Iran has been accused of supporting Shiite militias that have targeted Sunni communities.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have been engaged in a war of words and propaganda in addition to these regional conflicts. Both countries have accused each other of being sponsors of terrorism and destabilizers of the region. The rivalry has also taken on sectarian dimensions, with each accusing the other of threatening their respective sects.
Before the Chinese mediation, there have been some tentative steps toward reconciliation in recent years. In 2019, Saudi Arabia and Iran held talks in Baghdad. They discussed issues of mutual concern, including the situations in Iraq and Yemen. These talks have been seen as a positive step in the easing of tensions between the two countries.
The relations of the two states with China
Saudi Arabia and Iran have significant relationships with China, which has emerged as a major economic and political player in the Middle East in recent years. However, their relationship with China differs in several ways.
Traditionally, Saudi Arabia has had close economic ties with China, particularly in the energy sector. China is the largest importer of Saudi oil and has invested heavily in Saudi Arabia’s energy infrastructure. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has sought to deepen its political and military ties with China, in part to reduce its dependence on the United States. In 2017, Saudi Arabia and China signed a memorandum of understanding strategic cooperation, which included agreements on energy, trade, and investment. Saudi Arabia has also joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a massive infrastructure development project that aims to connect China to markets worldwide.
Iran also has significant economic ties with China, particularly with the energy sector. China is Iran’s largest trading partner and has been a major buyer of Iranian oil despite US sanctions. Iran has sought to deepen its economic ties with China in recent years, particularly in light of its growing isolation from the United States and Europe. In 2021, China and Iran signed a 25-year strategic cooperation agreement that included agreements on energy, infrastructure, and trade. The agreement is seen as a major boost to Iran’s economy and as a signal of China’s growing influence in the region.
However, China’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and Iran is complicated by several factors. One of the main challenges is balancing their relations with both countries, which are often in conflict. China has sought to maintain good relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, in part by staying neutral about their regional conflicts. However, this has become increasingly difficult in recent years as tensions between the two countries have escalated.
Another challenge for China is balancing its economic interests with political and strategic priorities. China has been careful not to take side in the conflicts between Saudi Arabia and Iran, in part because it does not want to jeopardize its economic interests in either country. However, this has led to criticism from both sides, with each accusing China of favoring another.
As can be seen, these difficulties between the two most important states in a region of strategic importance to China have created challenges to China’s medium- and long-term goals. In fact, it would not be wrong to argue that China’s interests are at the root of its efforts to restore relations between the two states. Another factor is the geographical location and the role of these two countries in the Belt and Road Initiative, which is China’s major international initiative.
Both Saudi Arabia and Iran are important partners in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive infrastructure development project that aims to connect China to markets worldwide. However, their roles in this initiative differ in several ways.
Saudi Arabia has been a key partner of the BRI since its inception in 2013. China has identified Saudi Arabia as a crucial hub for the initiative, given its strategic location between Europe, Asia, and Africa and its status as the world’s largest oil exporter. China has heavily invested in Saudi Arabia’s energy infrastructure, including the construction of oil refineries and petrochemical plants. Saudi Arabia has also joined the BRI to diversify its economy and to reduce its dependence on oil exports.
Overall, both Saudi Arabia and Iran played important roles in the Road Initiative, reflecting their strategic locations and significant natural resources. Although China’s relationship with Iran has been complicated by US sanctions, it has continued to seek opportunities for economic cooperation with both countries as part of its broader efforts to expand its global influence.
China’s Success: Possible Consequences
There is no doubt that China’s success in establishing this important and intractable relationship is an important achievement. In this way, China has demonstrated its ability to play an important role in solving international problems. China is likely to play a greater role in solving similar problems around the world. The first signs can be seen in the Russian-Ukrainian problem. It is likely that China will play an active role in trying to solve the Ukrainian crisis in the upcoming days and weeks. Undoubtedly, all these developments will have a negative impact on the dominant role of the United States in the region. China’s hand has become stronger than ever in the great power competition between the US and China. The Middle East (or the Middle West) region has always been at the center of world politics and will continue to be so. The power that can control the region has always had an advantage in world history. The coming years will show more clearly whose side the advantage is on.
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