China took on a leading role in Middle East peace talks as it brokered a deal between historic adversaries Saudi Arabia and Iran late last week, signaling the nation’s role as a peacemaker — a reputation previously reserved by the United States.
On Friday in Beijing, both Middle Eastern countries agreed to reopen their embassies and exhange ambassadors, bringing an end to almost a decade of tensions.
“After implementing the decision, the foreign ministers of both nations will meet to prepare for exchange of ambassadors,” Iranian state television said.
The BBC reported:
Tensions between the Sunni and Shia-led neighbours have since often been high.
They regard each other as a threatening power that seeks regional dominance. They also support rival sides across the Middle East, including in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq - and most overtly in Yemen.
Iran has supported Shia Houthi rebels who forced out the Saudi-backed government in 2014, while Saudi Arabia has led a devastating air campaign against the Houthis since the following year.
Saudi Arabia has also accused Iran of helping the Houthis attack it.
As detailed by the Associated Press on Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping “appears to have played a direct part in the talks by hosting Iran’s president in Beijing last month. He also visited the Saudi capital Riyadh in December for meetings with oil-rich Gulf Arab nations crucial to China’s energy supplies.”
Prior to China’s involvement, peace efforts between the two countries have been largely unsuccessful.
Speaking to the British press, Saudi Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud explained Saudi Arabia’s relationship with China, stating, “China is our largest trading partner. It is also the largest trading partner of most countries. And that is a reality that we will have to deal with. China, for us, is an important and valued partner in many areas. We have excellent working relationships across many sectors. But we have said and repeat this, always, we will look towards our own interests. And we will look for them in the west and in the east.”
The move was enabled by the United States’ loss of influence with Saudi Arabia under President Joe Biden, who promised to hold Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud accountable for the death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Kashoggi, who was reportedly assassinated by agents of the Saudi government in Istanbul, Turkey.
In 2019, Biden promised to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the world stage over its human rights record. Last July, he attempted to reset ties with the nation, and promised not to sanction the Saudi leader over Kashoggi's death.