By Hanif Bismi;
Despite changes in the international environment and China’s foreign policy principles, the Five Principles continue to serve a useful purpose as they offer an alternative to the American conception of world order. As noted by Daniel L. Byman in 2018, this is particularly true for Yemen, where the ongoing war and humanitarian crisis have worsened, and for the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which have lost influence to Iran.
According to Anna L. Jacobs in 2022, many Gulf Arab states, which have often disagreed over their policies toward Iran, are now exploring and expanding their outreach with Tehran. These statements from different sources highlight the similarities between China’s foreign policy and the increasing influence of Iran in the region.
The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, two of the most influential nations in the Muslim world and heavyweights of the Middle East, have restored diplomatic relations after seven years of political differences, with China serving as the power broker. This unexpected announcement came after four days of negotiations and consultations between Iran, China, and Saudi Arabia in China. The international Muslim community has wholeheartedly welcomed the agreement.
Diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia were cut off after Sheikh Nimr was executed in 2016. In Yemen, both Iran and Saudi were on opposing sides, with the end of
the Arab Spring leading to the ousting of President Ali Abdullah Saleh after 33 years of his rule. Saudi supported Saleh’s vice president Abdrabbub Mansur Hadi, while Iran supported the popular Houthis uprising. Hadi continued to keep order in the US allied policies. This agreement will likely upset the US, UK, France, and other Western countries that were directly involved in Yemen by arming the Saudi-backed Hadi regime.
Similarly, in the Syrian conflict, where Syrians have continued to suffer for over a decade, Iran supports the Syrian government, while NATO continues to bomb civilians. Although China follows its non-intervention policy in other countries’ internal affairs, it has supported the Syrian government diplomatically. Today, China’s political influence continues to increase in the international diplomatic realm.
Saudi’s military intervention in Yemen has not only resulted in losing the war but has also exposed their disastrous strategy and created an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. This has only helped boost Iran’s influence in the region. Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic war with Qatar has further reduced its influence in the Arab neighborhood, while Qatar’s ties with Iran have expanded.
Iran recently celebrated its 44th anniversary of the establishment of the Islamic Republic, maintaining its momentum of influence in the region, and Persian Gulf states are now accepting this reality after decades of antagonism. Despite the Iran-Saudi agreement sending a message about waning US influence in the region, the US has described the agreement as a “good thing.” Muslims throughout the world have longed for unity beyond nationalities and differences, being tired of marginalization, Islamophobic propaganda, war, and corrupt leadership.
This historical agreement will make a significant difference not only in the oil-rich region but also throughout the Muslim world. As journalist and political commentator Steven Sahiounie notes in 2023, “The Chinese-brokered agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran stunned the world.” (Hanif Bismi is Sydney-based author and journalist.).