India should take notice of China’s Iran-Saudi agreement.
GS 2 India & Foreign Relations
- Recently, Iran and Saudi Arabia announced a deal brokered by China to restore diplomatic relations.
Iran and Saudi Arabia issues
Struggle for influence:
- Iran and Saudi Arabia are in a continuous struggle for influence in the Middle East and other Muslim regions.
- In nearby conflicts, including the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, as well as disputes in Bahrain, Lebanon, Qatar, and Iraq, the two countries have supported opposing sides to varying degrees.
- Iran has armed and assisted Houthi rebels in Yemen, while the Saudi military launched an air campaign in 2015 to prevent a Houthi takeover.
- Subsequently, the Houthis launched attacks against Saudi airports and oil facilities.
- In 2016, after mobs invaded the Saudi embassy in Tehran in retaliation for the execution of prominent Saudi Shia cleric and political dissident Sheikh Nimr, the two nations severed diplomatic ties.
- Since that time, the two nations have been engaged in a competition for geopolitical influence in the region, prolonging the conflicts in Yemen and Syria.
- A few months ago, senior military figures in Iran threatened Saudi Arabia with repercussions unless it reined in Persian-language media outlets that zealously covered anti-government demonstrations in their country.
- In response to a “credible threat of attack” from Iran, Riyadh had raised alert levels.
Significance of China’s mediation:
Constructive role of China
- By mediating the agreement, China has shown off its significant political clout in the area and contrasted its “constructive” contribution to regional peace.
Strategic and symbolic dimensions
- China’s role in mediating a reconciliation between these two longtime adversaries in the Middle East has significant strategic and symbolic implications.
- Beijing needs to keep the oil flowing freely from the area for strategic reasons.
- China, which imports more than 40% of its crude oil, needs peace in the Gulf.
Breaking hegemony of American mediation:
- The Iran-Saudi deal on restoring diplomatic relations, brokered by China, suggests American influence in West Asia is being challenged.
- Since the end of World War II and especially since the fall of the Soviet Union, the US has been the principal external power in the region.
- Many have thus already described the recent development as a power shift, with China emerging as a significant player in the Middle East.
World’s response & potential of the deal:
Despite its antagonistic relations with China, the US welcomed the agreement right away, declaring that it did not matter who mediated it as long as it brought about long-lasting peace. It also made an effort to downplay the perception of waning US influence in the region.
- India has praised the agreement, claiming that it has always favoured negotiation and diplomacy to settle disputes.
- Growing Chinese sway in the Middle East could be advantageous for Pakistan strategically and economically.
- Given the close ties between Islamabad and Beijing, China might represent Pakistan’s interests and persuade the wealthy Gulf nations to assist Pakistan in resolving its financial problems.
Hope for peace
- According to critics, the Sunni monarchy and Shia republic’s differences will not be resolved by this agreement.
- The meagre hope is that the agreement reached in Beijing will result in a long-lasting peace in Yemen and put an end to proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Lebanon, Syria, and other countries in the region.
- The agreement may also result in domestic relief.
Possibilities for India:
- China has stated time and time again that it has only economic interests in the Middle East. Some people predict that Beijing will soon establish a military presence in the area.
- oAs a result, this transaction raises serious geopolitical and strategic concerns for New Delhi and raises a huge red flag for India.
Impact on I2U2
- Critics predict that the agreement will have an effect on the I2U2 (Israel-India-UAE-US) alliance.
- It urges India to strengthen its ties to the region without US involvement (such as with Iran) and in ways that highlight its connections to other civilisations and cultures and the positive contributions of the Indian diaspora.
In India’s interest
- Overall, it is plausible that if the two fierce rivals were actively attempting to reduce tensions between themselves, Indian interests in the Gulf would be more secure.
- India, among other nations, benefited from the 2001 security agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which, despite profound mistrust between the two countries, prevented active conflict for 10 years.
- Up until 2019, Iran accounted for 11% of India’s total oil imports, making it one of the country’s major oil suppliers.
- India has a distinct advantage over China in terms of becoming a more dependable partner and mediator due to its long-standing relationships with the majority of the Gulf states.
- India enjoys a distinct soft power advantage thanks to the sizeable Indian diaspora in the Middle East.
- Regardless of changes in policy or outside shocks, this diaspora can serve as a steady anchor in relations.
- • India must carefully consider whether China’s expanding influence in the Gulf is harmful to its long-term security interests and the balance of power in the area.
- • At the same time, recent events have opened up a window for India to establish itself as a major player in the Middle East.
- India is already on the region’s alliance map thanks to the I2U2 partnership between India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. This should serve as a reminder to India that it takes a great deal of work to convert historical ties and photo ops into actual influence. New Delhi has strong motivations to push I2U2 as it seeks to reframe its relationship with the Middle East and gain a bigger footprint in the region.
Daily Mains Question
[Q] What is the importance of the arrangement that was struck by China to restore diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran? What are the possible repercussions of the deal for India?