Iran-Saudi Tie-up: Normalizing Role of China


CSS International Relations | Iran-Saudi Tie-up: Normalizing Role of China


The relationship between two Muslim countries, Saudi Arabia and Iran enjoys a bumpy road. On-off relationship, from the Iranian Revolution to the assassination of Qasim Soleimani, reveals the wide communication gap. The actual factor behind the conundrum is the sectarian divide: Shia- Sunni clash. Nevertheless, Iran and Saudi Arabia agrees to normalize their diplomatic ties on 10th March 2023, after China brings forward a diplomatic deal. A very famous statement is to be quoted in the account: there are no permanent friends and foes in international politics but national interest. Thus, these two countries pen down cooperation and collaboration at the security level, trade, investment, technology, and culture. Foot-stepping respect for sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs is ensured. This essay deals with the conundrum between Iran and Saudi Arabia and the diplomatic moves of China in the region to bring peace and prosperity.

Timeline of the Conundrum between Iran and Saudi Arabia

  • After the Iranian Revolution:
    The relations were worse at that time owing to the accusation made on Saudi Arabia by Iran of being an ally of the US in the Gulf saga; in addition, the allegations of supporting the US interest rather than religious ideology. Moreover, Saudi Arabia was a bit worried about Iran’s desire of spreading its revolution in the Gulf region
  • 1987 – Mecca incident:
    The relationship was further devastated on 31 July 1987. Almost 400 pilgrims having Iranian nationality were killed; contrarily, Saudi Arabia declined the number of applications of pilgrims. Consequently, Iran boycotted performing Hajj for three years.
  • 2011 – Iran assassination plot:
    On 11 October 2011, the accusation was made by the US that Iran is planning to assassinate Adel Al-Jubair, Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs.
  • 2011 – Syrian Civil War:
    Bashar al-Asad, a Syrian President, backed by Iran through economic and military assistance against Sunni rebels. On the other hand, the Sunni majority joined the US-led coalition to fight ISIS. This war added fuel to the fire.
  • 2015 – Yemen Civil War:
    Saudi Arabia supported the Yemeni government while Iran supported the Houthi rebels in the civil war. Iranian officials were present in Aden, a city in Yemen, and the fight against Saudi militia. Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Salman labeled Iran’s supreme leader as the “new Hitler.” Thus, the relationship was further worsening.
  • 2015 – Mecca stampede:
    The incident occurred during the Hajj pilgrimage. Almost 2000 pilgrims were killed in the crash, and of the 400 were Iranians. Iran blamed Saudi officials for being responsible for the accident. A Saudi Prince, Dr. Khalid bin Abdullah bin Fahd bin Farhan Al Saud tweeted “Under the threat of the enemy Zoroastrians — historically – to the Kingdom – it is time to think – seriously – to ban Iranians from coming to Mecca to preserve the safety of the pilgrims.”
  • 2016- Execution of Nimr al-Nimr:
    A renowned Shiacleric Ayatollah Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr executed on 2 January 2016 in Saudi Arabia. On the very next day, Saudi’s foreign minister announced to cut diplomatic ties between both countries owing to the violence at the embassy. Besides, Saudi Arabia denied playing in the 2016 AFC Champions League in Iran. Hence, exchange of words war made.
  • 2017 – Qatar blockade:
    Saudi Arabia and its alliance – UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt – placed a blockade on Qatar owing to its close ties with Iran and support for asymmetrical warfare.
  • 2017 – Missile head off Riyadh:
    A ballistic missile was confronted at Riyadh International Airport in November 2017. Besides, it is accused that Iran suppling to Houthi of Yemen.
  • 2018 – US withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal:
    Donald Trump, Former President of the US, pulled out of the deal; Saudi Arabia and Israel praised the act. Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Prince, cautioned in an interview that if Iran gets a nuclear weapon then Saudi Arabia will follow the same footprints.
  • 2020 – Assassination of Qasim Soleimani:
    Qasim Soleimani – Major General of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – was killed on 3 January 2020 in Baghdad airport in a targeted American drone strike.  It is reported that the media of Saudi Arabia celebrated the incident.  

Separatist Element behind Skirmish

Sectarianism is one of the factors behind the skirmish between two Muslim countries; the clash between Shia and Sunni provokes unrest in the Gulf region. The clerics of both countries have misinterpreted each other’s religious beliefs and teachings, as per their own interests. Moreover, proxy wars and asymmetrical wars are conducted against each other to promote one’s narrative in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Pakistan.  Le Figaro cited the statement of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah “There are two countries in the world that do not deserve to exist: Iran and Israel.” In addition to this, Mufti Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al ash-Sheikh was replaced in 2016 by Sheikh Saleh bin Hamid as the deliverer of the hajj sermon owing to his sector.

Changing Equation in the Region: Reconciliation Process 

A new year tilts the wind in the region; on March 10th, 2023 an accord between Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China has signed to promote regional development. However, five days of clandestine talks were held in Beijing among top officials of Saudi and Iran. A joint trial statement was issued by Iranian official media in which enormous videos and pictures of Masud bin Muhammad Al Aiban – Saudi National Security Advisor, Sectary of the National Security Council of Iran, and Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi were included. It is expected that the foreign officials of both countries will meet soon in this regard. Besides, embassies will be reopened in each other’s countries within two months. Thus, the credit for making two rivalries sit in a round conference goes to China- the Dragon.

Dragon versus the Eagle

The constructive role of China (Dragon) ditches America’s narrative in the region. Chinese officials put forward the narrative that China does not believe in the divide and hate rule; paradoxically, the US intervenes in the region to create a divide. Besides, Chinese officials named it a win-win approach to seeking reconciliation, peace, and cooperation. Chinese washed off the allegations, made by the US, of debt trap policy; China does not launch neocolonial wars for the sake of energy and never uses the hard power of regime-changing tactics.

A Challenge to the Hegemony of the US dollar

After the evacuation from Afghanistan – on August 30, 2021 – the hegemony of the US in Asia and near forth regions has declined to zero game sum. In addition to this the dollar hegemony, the American banking system, the SWIFT banking system, and the role of the IMF are at risk. Superpowers like Russia and China indulge other countries to trade in the Chinese currency – Yuan. The case in point is quoted in the account: a long-termed deal signed between Saudi Arabia and China of $30 billion worth will be traded oil in Chinese currency. Similarly, in 2019 China and Iran signed an accord in Chinese currency of $400 billion worth. On the other hand, it is a worrisome situation for the US that the Pro-American ally – Saudi Arabia – puts its eggs in the Chinese and Russian baskets. A 180-degree shift is notified from “Beggars cannot be choosers” to “Absolutely Not.” Revival of independent foreign policy to safeguard sovereignty is emancipation from the US influence.

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