Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
March 12, 2023
US and China are engaged in fierce competitions for global influences. But hopefully the competition is benign and improves global stability. Thus, it is difficult to understand that China brokered the Iran-Saudi deal which “eases tensions between the Middle East powers” would raise red flags for the US or any other global power.
The US may feel that she is losing influences in the region, but it is not China’s fault. Probably, US has been too focused on the containment of China so there is no sufficient bandwidth to deal with other major global challenges.
Or, the US is now viewed by local powers as not a neutral player. The US has not been effective in managing a fair peace deal in the Israel-Palestine conflicts and does not allow any other parties to play an active role. The Iran nuclear weapon program is a global concern, but President Trump unilaterally pulled out of an international agreement, JCPOA, now President Biden refuses to directly negotiate with Iran. DPRK’s missile and nuclear arsenal have been expanding, but after President Trump made big road shows there was no contact or negotiation anymore. Similar to the JCPOA, there was a six-party conference for negotiating with DPRK. But it is dead in the water. The Korean Peninsula remains a powder keg that may erupt anytime. The Ukraine war is in the “human meat grinding” phase, but the West immediately denounced the China peace plan.
The GOP Congressman immediately criticized President Biden for “allowing” China to mediate a truce between Iran-Saudi. But his statement “They are absolutely emerging as a military threat to the United States. I think we need to respond and respond very strongly” sounds like China is a challenge only to President Biden than the US. How does the US, if GOP were in the White House, respond strongly?
China-brokered Iran-Saudi deal raises red flags for US
BY BRAD DRESS – 03/11/23 8:00 AM ET
An agreement struck by Iran and Saudi Arabia on Friday to re-establish relations has shifted concerns back to the state of the U.S. role in the Middle East — especially since the deal was brokered by Washington’s main adversary, China.
Both Iran and Saudi Arabia announced they will resume diplomatic relations and open up embassies once again in their respective nations within two months, according to a joint statement.
Alex Vatanka, the director of the Iran Program at the Middle East Institute, said the Iran-Saudi Arabia deal was an important agreement for the region but questioned whether it would put an end to any violence, including in war-torn Yemen.
The news on Friday was a diplomatic and political success for Beijing, which also recently published a peace plan to end the war in Ukraine.
China’s top diplomat Wang Yi quickly hailed the agreement as a “victory” on Friday and said his country would continue to address global issues, according to statements carried by several Chinese newspapers.
But the agreement undercuts the posture of the U.S. in the region. The U.S. has downsized in Syria after withdrawing forces in 2021 from Afghanistan.
The deal also comes as Saudi Arabia is demanding certain security guarantees, a steady flow of arms shipments and assistance with its civilian nuclear program in order to normalize relations with Israel, a major U.S. ally, the White House confirmed on Friday.
Speaking to reporters, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the U.S. was “informed” about the Saudi Arabia-Iran talks but played no role in them.
Kirby welcomed the normalization of relations between the two countries should it ease violence in the Middle East.
“To the degree that it could deescalate tensions, all that’s to the good side of the ledger,” Kirby said, adding the U.S. is not stepping back from its role in the Middle East.
Vatanka, from the Middle East Institute, said both Iran and Saudi Arabia have been seeking to ease tensions for the past couple of years.
While he was surprised by China’s role as a mediator, Vatanka said the deal does not constitute “a major loss” for Washington in the long-term.
“It symbolically makes the United States look like it’s not able to be a key player,” he said. “But it’s not going to be a Chinese-dominated Middle East.”
China is a large buyer of Saudi oil and maintains close relations with Iran.
Conversely, the U.S. has had strained relations with Iran for decades and a similar normalization agreement would have been next to impossible for Washington to mediate.
Some experts have cautioned that China is beginning a new era of diplomatic engagement in the Middle East, where it before mostly had economic ties.
Jonathan Panikoff, director of the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative in the Middle East Programs for The Atlantic Council, warned of an “emergence of China’s political role in the region.”
“It should be a warning to U.S. policymakers: Leave the Middle East and abandon ties with sometimes frustrating, even barbarous, but long-standing allies, and you’ll simply be leaving a vacuum for China to fill,” Panikoff wrote in a Friday analysis.
Middle East politics has become more strained for the U.S. as Israel clashes with Palestinians seeking a free state in Israeli-occupied Gaza and the West Bank. The ongoing civil war in Syria, violence in Yemen, heightened tensions over Iranian support for Russia and a scrapped nuclear deal with Tehran have added to complications.
Still, during comments on Friday on the economy, Biden appeared welcoming of the diplomatic agreement. “Better relations between Israel and their Arab neighbors are better for everybody,” the president said.
House Intelligence chair: China-brokered Saudi-Iran truce ‘troubling’
Sun, March 12, 2023 at 7:16 AM PDT
The Chinese-negotiated agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia to reestablish diplomatic ties, which called into question U.S. influence in the region, is “very troubling,” according to Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio).
“I think that, of course, is a reflection on the Biden administration,” Turner said in an interview with ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “It’s not unexpected that [Saudi Arabia] might look elsewhere for support. It certainly is very unexpected and certainly very troubling and disappointing that they would turn to Iran.”
The deal between the two adversaries, which was negotiated over four days in Beijing, eased tensions between two of the most influential countries in the Middle East after years of hostilities. Turner, who heads the House Intelligence Committee, on Sunday highlighted the Biden administration’s criticism of Saudi Arabia and said U.S. officials have been slow to respond to Riyadh’s military needs.
But the Chinese-brokered deal raised red flags in the west as anxiety grows over China’s increasing influence in the region. Republicans have blasted President Biden, saying he is soft on China, and have sounded the alarm on Beijing’s global ambitions.
“The Biden administration appears to be much too timid… in their approach to Russia… and I think even in China they are afraid to provoke,” Turner said. “They are absolutely emerging as a military threat to the United States. I think we need to respond and respond very strongly.”
–Updated at 10:30 a.m.
China denies hidden motives after hosting Iran-Saudi talks
Sat, March 11, 2023 at 4:02 AM PST
BEIJING (AP) — After hosting talks at which Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations, China said Saturday it has no hidden motives and isn’t trying to fill any “vacuum” in the Middle East.
The Foreign Ministry quoted an unidentified spokesperson as saying China “pursues no selfish interest whatsoever” and opposes geopolitical competition in the region.
“We respect the stature of Middle East countries as the masters of this region and oppose geopolitical competition in the Middle East,” said the statement posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website.
“China has no intention to and will not seek to fill so-called vacuum or put up exclusive blocs,” it said, in an apparent reference to the U.S. “China will continue to contribute its insights and proposals to realizing peace and tranquility in the Middle East and play its role as a responsible major country in this process.”
Notably, Wang also stated that “this world has more than just the Ukraine question and there are still many issues affecting peace and people’s lives.”