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Daily News Analysis

Are China’s relations with Islamic Iran and the Saudis a zero-sum game?

Crescent International

As China’s involvement in West Asia increases, many analysts are beginning to look for cracks in its relations with Islamic Iran.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will arrive in Saudi Arabia on December 7 for a three-day visit.

In addition to discussing oil and security with the Saudis, Xi will also meet rulers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as well as other Middle Eastern potentates.

China is the biggest importer of Saudi oil.

Beijing is also keen to sell weapons to the Saudis but given Riyadh’s decades-long dependence on western military hardware, the transition is not likely to be smooth, if it materializes.

Some western observers pushing their own agenda, are peddling the idea that Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia will mean weakening of Beijing’s ties with Tehran.

While China’s relations with Riyadh can be interpreted in different ways depending on the data and transactions one chooses to use, Beijing is unlikely to downgrade its strategic relationship with Islamic Iran.

The reason is obvious.

Iran is an enormously important component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) through which it will integrate the Eurasian landmass.

Its strategic location acting as the focal point of the east-west and north-south corridors gives Iran immense advantage.

Saudi Arabia does not come even close.

Besides, Iran’s 80 million highly educated population puts it way above Saudi Arabia whose population lacks even basic skills.

It does not mean that China will not have relations with Iran’s foes.

These include the US and zionist Israel.

Much as Iran may wish Beijing not to have close relations with its enemies, Tehran knows that this is not how countries conduct their policies.

Beijing will have relations with all important regional players and this fits its overall global geopolitical philosophy.

China’s policy is clear: integrate the world economically and logistically into its overall strategy of development.

Had the US not identified China as a strategic enemy, Beijing may have left it at that.

But Beijing and Washington are now locked in a prolonged and bitter global standoff.

This confrontation will not end soon regardless of the number of conferences held or mutual treaties signed.

The US-instigated process has acquired a life of its own and it is rather late to achieve a paradigm shift in the near future.

Beijing is in desperate need of allies.

Its opposition to US imperialism and hegemony is based on principles, not on ad-hoc policies.

The Saudis meanwhile are trying to keep their feet in two boats simultaneously.

They want to utilise the decline of western hegemony to get closer to China.

While the Saudi rulers are now openly disobeying their masters in the White House, they simply do not have the political acumen, intellectual capacity, or military expertise to aid China in strategic terms.

China needs political players with some global clout on its side, not some primitive regime with no independent strategic vision.

For China to count on the Saudis vis-à-vis the US is akin to counting on a bar bouncer to take on Mike Tyson.

Tehran’s relations with Beijing, meanwhile, will continue to grow at the political, strategic and economic levels.

This does not mean that China will back Islamic Iran in all its regional endeavours.

Neither will Iran support China blindly.

It will be a state-to-state cooperation based on strategic interests, not a master-slave relationship.

This arrangement suits both parties as it makes the relationship more authentic, enduring and flexible.

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