Saudi-Iran agreement a win-win-win-win deal that breaks the Carter Doctrine
Published: Mar 12, 2023 02:41 PM
Wang Yi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee, presides over the closing meeting of the talks between a Saudi delegation and an Iranian delegation in Beijing, capital of China, March 10, 2023.(Photo:Xinhua)

Wang Yi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee, presides over the closing meeting of the talks between a Saudi delegation and an Iranian delegation in Beijing, capital of China, March 10, 2023.(Photo:Xinhua)

The recent Saudi-Iran agreement has come as a major surprise to most observers, but making the announcement and revealing its details from Beijing has been a bigger surprise.

The China-facilitated rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran has given the world another proof that unipolarity no longer exists and that we are already in a de facto multipolar world order.

The Middle East and the world are not only in a post-America order, but also in a post-West order. The fast-changing regional and global political landscape is increasingly looking different from what the world has experienced over the last two centuries.  Individual regional nations are steadily regaining agency and rapidly building capacity to protect their sovereignty and act according to their national interests.

Saudi Arabia has sent a clear signal to the world that it is seriously diversifying its strategic partnerships and that it is building relations with the world based on its national and regional objectives. Iran has demonstrated that it cannot be isolated and that it can show flexibility and readiness to establish common understanding with its neighbors to address regional challenges.

The willingness of Saudi Arabia and Iran to go to the Chinese capital and announce their reconciliation from there is a message not only to the region, but also to the world that no one single country or bloc of countries has dominance over the Middle East and global affairs. Moreover, it illustrates that China, a meteorically re-emerging power, has a lot to contribute to global peace and stability.  China’s contribution to global stability is becoming more evident not only through China’s proposals such as Global Security Initiative (GSI), which it has further explained recently, but also in its actual efforts on the ground as demonstrated by the current case of Saudi-Iran agreement. 

Announcing the agreement from Beijing has officially and openly broken the 1980 Carter Doctrine that considered the Gulf region the US’ exclusive sphere of influence.  This doctrine has ended organically; it is a natural consequence of the fast-changing regional and world order. It is also the result of the regional players’ eagerness to bring in global powers that have enough political capital and leverage with all sides to function as effective guarantors of regional stability.

China’s strategy in the region is not confrontational, but pragmatic and realistic. The Chinese are not demanding that the region be their exclusive sphere of influence; they are not forcing the Chinese development model and ideology upon the regional people.  China has defined its economic, trade and diplomatic strategic goals and is now calmly pursuing them with the consensus of the regional nations. This is one major reason the regional leaders are comfortable dealing with the Chinese leaders, allowing China a larger role in the region, especially now that the economic, political and security architecture of the region and the world is being reshaped.

Saudi-Iran agreement was sealed after serious steps taken by regional nations to proactively handle their challenges with minimum involvement from non-regional powers.  This is why the initial five rounds of the Saudi-Iran negotiations took place in neutral regional countries, namely Iraq and Oman. The preliminary discussions prepared the ground for the final round, which was the most contentious, requiring a global sponsor of China’s stature and credibility with various regional countries.

This is a win-win-win-win agreement. It is a win for Saudi Arabia because it has 2030 Vision, which is aimed at transforming its economy and making it among the top 10 in the world. The Saudis have introduced many regional initiatives such as Saudi Green Initiative, which cannot be implemented effectively without regional stability and cooperation. 

It is a win for Iran because it will gain the advantage of normalizing relations with the Arabs and ending its regional and global isolation. This will in turn boost its economy and trade at a time when the US and Israel have been openly threatening to use military force against it. Furthermore, this agreement has put an end to the idea of “the Middle East NATO,” which has been introduced and promoted by the US and Israel, to bring the Arabs into a hostile anti-Iran bloc – and perhaps jointly militarily attack Iran. The Iranians now know that the Arabs will not join any future military bloc against it.  Furthermore, China, as the guarantor of the Saudi-Iran agreement, will have the moral responsibility and obligation to work against any such eventuality. 

It is a win for the region because it will accelerate the process of deescalating and finally resolving regional issues in places such as Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. This will in turn allow the region to have the right atmosphere for economic integration and development. It will help build trust between key regional players and enable them to have high-level alignment in their visions for the region, helping them boost regional growth. This agreement will pave the way for the people in the entire region to unlock their potential and achieve prosperity, which they have been eagerly seeking, especially after more than 20 years of conflicts. From the announced agreement terms, it is apparent that the Saudi and Iranian decision-makers are convinced that for their region to be thriving and prospering, they first need to eliminate the longstanding issues across the region. 

The agreement is a win for China because it will eventually bring stability in a region, from which it imports a considerable percentage of its energy. Saudi Arabia is the largest oil exporter to China; five out of six Gulf Arab countries are regularly among China’s top oil and gas suppliers. China is the largest oil importer from the Gulf region and the largest trading partner of all regional players, including Saudi Arabia and Iran.  China signed a 25-year agreement with the promise of investing $400 billion in Iran in 2021.

Also, the region has a young population with a growing market potential for Chinese exports. This is becoming more important now because the Western markets are becoming hostile to Chinese businesses and products. Therefore, China will be able to diversify its markets away from the increasingly unreliable and politically susceptible Western markets, especially now that the US-China great power rivalry is intensifying globally.

The Gulf region’s security is an important matter to China not only because it is one of the largest oil and gas exporting regions, but also because it is geographically strategically located in the heart of global trade, overlooking important maritime waterways such as Hormuz and Bab Al-Mandab straits.  It is a region where significant sections of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are implemented.

This agreement, if followed through effectively and satisfactorily, is going to end the era of strategic conspiracy against the region and start a new era of strategic prosperity for the region. Saudi-Iran agreement is a breakthrough for regional stability and Chinese diplomacy with implications that go far beyond regional borders. 

The author is former adviser to the chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Office, an authority responsible for Abu Dhabi's long-term strategies, and former head of the strategy division of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). He is currently a visiting scholar at the Asia Global Institute of the University of Hong Kong. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn