Why Iran and Saudi Arabia trust China? Admiral Ali Shamkhani (R), Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, shakes hands with Musaad bin Mohammed Al-Aiban (L), Saudi Arabia's Minister of State, as Wang Yi (C), director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, looks on for a photo during a meeting in Beijing, China, March 10, 2023. /Xinhua

Iran and Saudi Arabia had a rocky relationship with long-standing tensions since 1979. The domestic opinions of the two countries mutually reject each other’s political systems. Iran criticizes Saudi Arabia’s monarchy system based on its unique “Islamic clergy-led state” political system, while Saudi Arabia refutes Iran’s religious political system based on Sunni doctrine. Their religious and ethnic differences have been amplified.

The cutting of diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia originated from several events in 2015. Riyadh’s intervention in the Yemen conflict to strike the Houthi armed group, a local Shia branch, was opposed by Tehran. Saudi Arabia’s announcement on the execution of a Saudi Shia scholar angered Iran’s Shia religious communities. Iranian pilgrims suffered large-scale casualties in Saudi Arabia, which sparked public outrage in Iran. Iranian protesters attacked the Saudi embassy, leading to the breakdown of diplomatic relations between the two countries in early 2016.

Yet in recent years, new opportunities have emerged. Saudi Arabia hopes to end the Yemen conflict with dignity, and requires Iran’s assistance. Meanwhile, Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the United States have entered a stalemate, and Tehran hopes to ease tensions with Riyadh and create a favorable regional environment for its economic development. Additionally, crises in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq require Saudi Arabia and Iran to coordinate their positions and strengthen communication.

Since 2020, dialogue between Tehran and Riyadh has unfolded as negotiations took place in Iraq, where the two countries reached an important consensus. Meanwhile, the main regional allies of Iran and Saudi Arabia, such as the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, have restored diplomatic relations in 2022. Hence, the resumption of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia also is only a matter of time.

Nonetheless, the main challenge confronting both countries is in what context they can restore their ties.

China is considered a trusted partner by many Middle Eastern states, and also one of the few emerging powers capable and qualified to be a mediator in the region. Beijing has close relations with both Tehran and Riyadh, while serving as a bridge and channel for communication between both countries.

In recent years, the U.S.’s relations with Saudi Arabia have become more tense, and Washington has not established formal diplomatic relations with Iran, so it can’t facilitate dialogue between Iran and Saudi Arabia. After the outbreak of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Moscow has also found it difficult to focus on Middle Eastern issues.

Meanwhile, China is a reliable partner to Middle Eastern countries. The Belt and Road Initiative has received extensive support from regional countries including Saudi Arabia and Iran. At the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum in 2022 and during Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s visit to China in February, the Chinese leader has emphasized dialogue, paving the path for talks between the Middle Eastern states.

With China’s mediation, the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries ends years of tense confrontation and provides new opportunities for future cooperation. Further, as important powers in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Iran can play a greater role in resolving regional crises in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. The Middle Eastern states’ counter-terrorism, refugee issues and regional conflicts strongly affect the stability and peace of the rest of the world, while the cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Iran could usher in new opportunities for regional development.

China’s role as a mediator accepted by Saudi Arabia and Iran shows the recognition of Beijing’s rising role in the Middle East, where many crises have resulted from external interventions. China’s diplomatic concepts of peace, development, and win-win cooperation have received extensive support from the region.

Peace is the foundation of development, which is the vision of peace. Only by placing aside differences and seeking mutual benefit and win-win solutions can we end conflicts and create a prosperous future. Peace between Saudi Arabia and Iran with China’s mediation is not only a successful practice of Beijing’s diplomatic principles, but an example of the country’s responsible international image getting accepted by the Middle East.

Just as Wang Yi, director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, has said, as a mediator in the restoration of Iran-Saudi diplomatic relations, China will continue to play a constructive role in addressing hot issues in the world based on the wishes of all countries. – CGTN

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