China is Coming

Things can change very quickly in the Middle East. Just days before Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to patch things up and restore diplomatic relations, there had been talk that it was actually Israel that was edging closer to Riyadh. In fact, much of the friendlier relations between Israel and several Gulf countries can be tied to their mutually shared animosity towards Iran. And yet, seven years after Iran and Saudi Arabia had severed ties, here they were in the same room, announcing a deal to reopen embassies in their respective capitals within two months. A dramatic shift in Mid East political equation. And it is going to radically affect the geo-political equilibrium in the region much to the disadvantage of America.

The consequences of this arrangement won’t just play out in Iran and Saudi Arabia, of course, but across an entire region riven by fault lines previously created by the rivalry between Tehran and Riyadh backed by America. Will their diplomatic coming together further ease the way for the rehabilitation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the eyes of other Arab leaders? Will Lebanon, dominated by Hezbollah, now receive more Saudi investment? Will Saudi Arabia feel secure enough to disengage from the war in Yemen, where Iran has supported rebel forces? And will Iran’s own regional isolation, if not end entirely, then at least ease substantially? A lot of questions remain unanswered but the Tehran-Riyadh tie-up is surely going to open a new bout of arrangement and rearrangement in the region that is perennially haunted by fratricidal conflicts and internecine warfares and lawlessness.

The other interesting thing to note is where the announcement was made, namely China. Is this a further sign of a “changing global order”? China’s role in the Middle East and North Africa has often been seen as one focused on business, but with this agreement it appears as though China is trying to position itself as an alternative arbitrator to the United States. Washington itself has tentatively welcomed the deal, but behind closed doors there will be questions asked about what this means for US influence in a still vitally important region like the Middle East. The US reign of the Middle East is ending, now it’s China’s turn. China is coming with a lot of noise and America shows its limits, rather limits of power. The decline of the empire is nowhere so vivid as in Washington’s retreat in in the Middle East.

With Afghanistan lost, America is now focusing more on the Indo-Pacific region, in view of the rising military might and economic power of China. Strange it may seem Saudi Arabia is now obliging Russia, not America, in keeping interests of their oil cartel in place much to the dismay of America and its western allies.

A new polarisation is taking place signalling the end of Unipolar world. Space left by America is now filled by China. As Iran is no longer untouchable to Saudi Arabia the Russia-China-Iran axis is all set to get new dimension against the backdrop of Russia-Ukraine war. China is frantically searching for energy sources around the world and its Mid-East venture will strengthen its hold on global oil business. Autocratic rulers of Middle East have no problem in dealing with the Mandarins of Beijing because China itself is a citadel of autocracy and one party dictatorship. They don’t bother about human rights. Nor do they show any interest in championing democracy. The Ukraine war is now in its second year and it will continue for years to come. Meanwhile devastation of Ukraine continues while America and its NATO allies are testing new advanced weapons in Ukraine. The poor Ukrainians suffer. The net result of this war is new geo-political arrangement, a division in Europe and sun-set of American hegemony. China is not yet ready to antagonise America because of its trade relations and it is one reason the shaping of new global order is taking time. But America is losing to China in competition. And so there is sabre- rattling in Indo-Pacific region and a mock-fight over Taiwan. 


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Vol 55, No. 40, April 2 - 8, 2023