Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Huge breakthrough! China, Saudi Arabia and Iran unexpectedly released a joint statement in Beijing on Friday evening, saying that in response to the noble initiative of Chinese President Xi Jinping of China’s support for developing good neighborly relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran…an agreement has been reached between Saudi Arabia and Iran that includes an agreement to resume diplomatic relations between them and re-open their embassies and mission within a period not exceeding two months. It’s truly a huge diplomatic breakthrough. Wall Street Journal commented that the deal mediated by China would jolt the geopolitics of the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are long-term rivals of each other. They are leading countries of Sunni Muslim and Shia Muslim in the region respectively, and support different sides in conflicts from Yemen to Lebanon to Syria. In 2016, after Iranian protestors attacked the Saudi embassy in Iran in retaliation of Saudi Arabia’s execution of a Shia cleric, Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran. The two countries have held multiple rounds of talks since then with the intention of easing tensions, but there has been no substantial breakthrough.

The US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal after Trump took office, and US-Iran relations deteriorated further. The Trump administration one-sidedly supported Arab countries including Saudi Arabia in confronting Iran, further fueling the Saudi-Iranian feud. However, there have also been some subtle changes in Saudi-US relations, particularly after the Saudi security forces killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, which was condemned by the US and added complexity to Saudi-US relationship. Moreover, the war in Yemen has gradually become a burden for Saudi Arabia, as the Iran-backed Houthi militant group is strong militarily and cause a long-term drain on Saudi Arabia.

China is an important trade partner and friend of both Saudi Arabia and Iran, and is one of the top buyers of oil from the two countries. President Xi visited Saudi Arabia in December last year and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi visited China in February this year. China’s diplomatic philosophy of peaceful coexistence and mutual respect no doubt influenced the two countries’ thinking on how to get out of the predicament. It’s still unknown when China began the secret mediation. In the past China has not brokered major peace deals. Therefore, the trilateral statement released in Beijing on Friday came as a surprise to the US and the whole of the West.

The related work was done in secrecy, and there were no predictions in Western media about the announcement of Saudi Arabia and Iran in normalizing diplomatic relations. After the joint statement was released, a White House National Security Council spokesperson said the US “welcome any efforts to help end the war in Yemen and deescalate tensions in the Middle East region.” Washington can only say this much, and it must feel sour and complicated inside, because the Middle East has long been a region dominated by the US. Such a big diplomatic breakthrough, which is comparable in significance to the Camp David Accords of 1978 and the Oslo Accords of 1993, was achieved under China’s mediation. It is believed this news will become a top hot topic issue in international media outlets. As there are still many issues to be resolved between Saudi Arabia and Iran, what will be US’ real attitude toward it, and whether it will take any obstructive actions are worthy of attention.

Overall, the trilateral statement is a clear evidence of China’s peaceful diplomacy beginning to exert influence in the world and a proof of China’s strength being transformed into diplomatic soft power. China is a world-class power that is full of goodwill. It never harms other countries and is truly committed to win-win cooperation. Reaching this trilateral statement will definitely strengthen the impression and trust of many countries toward China. Successful mediation between Saudi Arabia and Iran will also enhance China’s discourse power to promote peaceful settlement of the Ukraine crisis.

I believe that the trilateral statement reached in Beijing has opened a new door for the Middle East and also for the entire international politics. People can see the new connotations, possibilities and spaces for international relations.

The author is a commentator of the Global Times.