- In March 2023, Saudi Arabia and Iran signed an agreement in Beijing, China, to re-establish diplomatic ties, respect each other’s sovereignty and maintain non-interference in the other’s domestic affairs.
- The agreement came after months of deliberations and four days of talks mediated by China.
- This agreement ends seven years of diplomatic estrangement between the two Gulf neighbours.
- During this period, they have confronted each other in proxy wars in Syria and Yemen, carried out media campaigns of extraordinary mutual hostility, often on sectarian basis, and have on occasion come close to direct conflict, particularly in 2019 when suspected Iranian agents attacked Saudi oil facilities.
- Iran and Saudi Arabia operate on opposite sides of many conflicts in the Middle East; thus, many believe that this normalization will contribute to peace efforts.
- The positive impact of the agreement would be felt in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, and the region.
Strategic Significance of the Agreement
- The agreement has confirmed that the Arab states are prepared to pursue their interests without United States involvement.
- This was largely the result of increasing regional disenchantment with the U.S. as a security-provider, alongside strong messages from Washington that it was less enthusiastic about being the regional security-guarantor. The U.S.’s military failures in Iraq and Afghanistan contributed to its loss of credibility among its regional allies.
- What regional states are seeking is not to disengage from the U.S. but to broaden their options and build alternative relationships to suit their interests.
- China is an attractive partner. It has substantial energy, trade, investment and technology-related ties with West Asia: it is the region’s largest buyer of crude oil, a major trade and investment partner, and is also rapidly expanding its role as a technology-provider in most countries.
- West Asia is also crucial for the realisation of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), with regional states being important for logistical connectivity, and investment, consultancy and contracting partnerships.
- China is looking at greater political involvement with the region on the basis of “quasi-mediation diplomacy” to promote its broad commercial, diplomatic and political interests rather than its hard security concerns.
Challenges for India
- China has affirmed that its role in West Asian affairs is likely to get more active and substantial. This poses challenges for Indian diplomacy.
- However, recognising that the management of its ties with China remains its diplomatic priority, India will need to engage with China in West Asia where they have a broad gamut of shared interests in energy security, free and open sea lanes, logistical connectivity, and, above all, regional stability. Here, they can work together to further mutual and regional interests.