China, which for years has repeated the mantra of “not interfering in the internal affairs of other countries or imposing its will”, has begun to take a more active role as a global player. The success of mediating to achieve the establishment of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran last week reflects a readjustment of the Asian giant’s foreign policy at a time when mistrust of Washington has reached unsuspected limits and in which the West has increased scrutiny over Beijing’s role in the war in Ukraine.
After demonstrating that China has enough voice to sit in the chair of moderator of an international truce, the European Union and the United States would like their consolidation as a “responsible power” to go through the abandonment of their calculated equidistance from the conflict. But this is a turn that seems unrealistic for now. “China is interested in building on the momentum, following its successful mediation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and further enhancing its image and reputation as a responsible great power,” says John Calabrese, director of the Middle East-Asia project at the US Middle East Research Center. Institute. “A fruitful diplomatic effort [en el conflicto ucranio] It would greatly contribute to repairing China’s relations with European countries”, this doctor in international relations opines by email. “Moscow and kyiv will have to be receptive to Beijing’s diplomacy. But, to take that step, both would have to be willing to make amends. And there are no indications that they are, ”he points out.
Meanwhile, Beijing does its calculations. This Friday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that President Xi Jinping will pay a state visit to Russia from March 20 to 22, at the invitation of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The day before, the Chinese foreign minister, Qin Gang, had had a telephone conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmitro Kuleba; A call that, according to several analysts, could be a preparation for the videoconference that Xi and President Volodimir Zelensky will soon hold ―the first since the start of the war―, according to the Reuters agency and the daily newspaper. The Wall Street Journal.
“Beijing’s efforts to reach a truce between Riyadh and Tehran mark a new stage in China’s diplomatic status around the world,” said Wang Zaibang, a senior researcher at the Taihe Institute, in an interview with EL PAÍS. think tank based in Beijing. Since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, China has gradually abandoned its reluctance to engage in conflict resolution and has come up with its own mechanisms and even its own peace proposals (as in the Syrian war), although these have almost always fallen on deaf ears. In the Iranian-Saudi case, it seems that the Chinese leader himself facilitated the negotiations: he visited Saudi Arabia in December and received the Iranian president in Beijing last month.
Initial reactions to the truce between Iran and Saudi Arabia, signed in Beijing on March 10, have been very positive, after failed attempts at mediation by Oman and Iraq. Even Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba on Thursday acknowledged to his Chinese counterpart the merit of Beijing in facilitating conciliation. The two oil powers, which for years have been fighting for hegemony in the Middle East and supporting rival sides in regional conflicts, had severed their diplomatic ties in 2016. “This is a victory of dialogue and peace,” said Wang Yi, Director of the Foreign Relations Commission of the Communist Party of China.
Due to their political, economic and military power, Saudi Arabia and Iran are indispensable partners for the Asian giant. While economic relations are lopsided in Riyadh’s favor, Beijing guarantees Tehran political support and a financial lifeline in the face of US pressure. “No one can say that new frictions will not arise in the future, since some countries will not approve of China playing the role of mediator in the Middle East. But China is committed to a reconstruction based on negotiation, without resorting to military measures,” says Wang Zaibang.
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A “genuine multilateralism”
The head of Chinese diplomacy, Wang Yi, said that the pact “is a sample of the implementation of the Global Security Initiative [ISG]”, a project announced by Xi Jinping at the Boao Forum 2022 and officially presented last month. The ISG, which opposes sanctions and promotes “common, comprehensive and sustainable security” through dialogue and consultation, is closely linked to China’s vision of the world, a world in which its biggest rival is the United States. Joined. The proposal states that the great powers should facilitate peace negotiations and mediate, but “taking into account the needs of the countries involved.” It also urges to put into practice an “authentic multilateralism” and reject “unilateralism, confrontation between blocs and hegemony”.
China also launched its “Perspective on peace and development in the Horn of Africa” in 2022 to facilitate an agreement in Ethiopia and in the entire area. The initiative caused reluctance among some governments, due to the apparent lack of coordination with other mediation proposals led by Africans, and because they consider it biased in favor of Addis Ababa. In January, Qin Gang stated that the goal was “to support the countries of the region and achieve prosperity and stability.” However, analysts warn that Beijing may be looking to strengthen ties with the region’s incumbent leaders.
Another geopolitical arena in which China has recently become involved has been Myanmar. This week it has also emerged that this country will begin the process of repatriation of 1,140 Rohingyas, the Burmese ethnic minority that the State has persecuted for decades. The initiative for this pilot program would have been taken by the Burmese authorities under pressure from Beijing, according to Bangladeshi media reports.
Successful and Scheduled Peace Mediation
For China, which proclaimed “unlimited friendship” with Russia 20 days before the invasion of Ukraine in February last year, the real culprit for the crisis in Europe is NATO for “not taking Moscow’s concerns into account.” That premise was part of the Chinese proposal for a political solution to the Ukrainian crisis. That road map, published on the anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict, was coldly received by the European Union and the United States for “not condemning the illegal invasion” or “distinguishing between the aggressor and the victim”. The document was seen as an attempt by the Xi government to respond to mounting international pressure in a cautious manner.
In his telephone conversation on Thursday, Foreign Minister Qin assured Kuleba that “China will continue to play a constructive role” and “hopes that peace talks will resume as soon as possible.” The Ukrainian diplomat, for his part, stated that the document “reflects China’s sincerity in promoting a ceasefire” and that his country “hopes to improve mutual trust and deepen cooperation,” according to the chain. state CGTN
The expert from the Middle East Institute center John Calabrese mentions Beijing’s “clever assembly” to announce the pact between the two nations of the Persian Gulf: “It has been scheduled to coincide with the official inauguration of Xi Jinping for a third legislature, in amid intensifying strategic competition with Washington, and scripted to highlight that China is peacemakerwhile the United States is warmonger”. For this expert, the question now is “Is Beijing prepared for this progress to translate into something more significant?”
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