“Peace in the Middle East” was a popular slogan for peace activists in the years following the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, but now peace may finally be coming with the help of China. On March 10th, 2023, Iran and Saudi Arabia reestablished diplomatic relations for the first time since 2016 in an agreement brokered by Wang Yi, one of China’s most seasoned diplomats. Saudi Arabia and Iran have long had strained relations and tensions rose further in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, as rival Muslim sects of Sunni and Shia were now heads of state. Diplomatic relations between the countries were officially severed in 2016 after protestors stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran following Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shia cleric. Embassies in both countries are set to reopen in two within two months, and they have revived an agreement reached in 2001 to improve cooperation in the fields of the “economy, technology, trade, investment, science, culture, sports, and youth”.
The region has been plagued by violence for years but, for the first time in the modern era, another global power may succeed in finally securing peace. In 2020, Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani traveled to Iraq to discuss a possible peace deal, during which he was assassinated by the U.S. Saudi Arabia and Iran have fought proxy wars and funded opposing sides of various religious and political conflicts. The two countries are also huge players in the energy sector, with Saudi Arabia ranked first and Iran fourth in terms of largest oil reserves. Both also exert heavy political influence in the Middle East and peaceful relations between them is a prerequisite for stability and prosperity in the region. The deal penned by China is yet another sign that we now live in a multipolar world, an era favoring diplomacy and peaceful cooperation over imposing political systems on others.
Since emerging as a world power following WWII, the U.S. has proved incapable of remaining neutral in global conflicts, opting instead to provide military and economic support to foreign governments to perpetuate wars. The U.S. does not seek peace through dialogue and is agreement-incapable. Meanwhile, The People’s Republic of China has for many years advanced a foreign policy of peaceful cooperation and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states. The U.S. for decades brought only missile strikes and political instability to the Middle East; China, by contrast, managed to broker a major peace deal between the two regional powers without any use of force.
In the wake of this historic breakthrough with Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Communist Party of China is not done making peace deals; Chinese president Xi Jingping has just concluded a state visit to Russia. The wide-ranging meeting discussed trade, technology, and geopolitics, but it was China’s musings about a peaceful end to the conflict in Ukraine that caused the most consternation in the Biden administration. Chinese Communist Party spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, “Russia has carefully studied China’s position paper on the political solution to the crisis in Ukraine and is open to peace talks.”
Xi publicly referred to Putin as a “dear friend,” days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian president and another official for relocating Ukrainian children to safety in Russia. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken claimed the state visit had been an act of “diplomatic cover” by the Chinese President to mitigate the effect of the ICC ruling. He called for “upholding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine” and warned, “Any plan that does not prioritize this critical principle is a stalling tactic at best or is merely seeking to facilitate an unjust outcome. That is not constructive diplomacy.” Blinken also emphasized that any peace talks must include the Ukrainian President Zelensky (an idea seconded by Zelensky himself). A ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia mediated by China would be devastating for the United States’ military industrial complex and its standing on the world stage. U.S. military weapons contractors have arguably benefitted the most from the conflict, as the more weapons the government sends, the more lucrative contracts they receive. For arms makers, an indefinite, raging conflict is ideal, but China has upended their malevolent plans to continually stoke instability and violence for economic gain.
In 1992, then-leader of China Deng Xiaoping began what is now called the “Southern Tour,” a speaking tour of major Chinese cities to reinforce his policies of “reform and opening up” that enabled China to ascend to where it is now, as the largest economy in the world in terms of purchasing power parity. The Southern Tour helped rally the Chinese people to his cause and instilled faith in the Chinese Communist Party among the masses. We are now in the midst of another historic period that people will later reflect on with similar admiration. In just a week, the world has witnessed a major peace deal between two arch rivals in the Middle East, and the first hints of a plan to end the bloody conflict in Ukraine. Meanwhile, China’s calm dismissal of the ICC’s arrest warrant for Putin highlights how countries like Russia and China are no longer bound by Western institutions. Thirty years ago, Deng’s Southern Tour paved the way for China’s ascendance. China’s current “Tour of Peace” similarly appears to be laying the groundwork for deepening global cooperation through economic development.