China-Iran-Saudia-Arab-Relations_edited
Beyond SAT
Reema Shaukat

Varying Regional Penchants

In the first-half of 2023, some interesting developments in Pakistan’s western neighborhood again brought the world’s focus to this region. Ceasefire in Yemen, Saudi-Iran rapprochement, resumption of ties by the Arab countries with Syria and growing Chinese and Russian influence in the region — all are being observed as significant changing trends in the post-Cold War era. These developments are expected to bring further political fluxes which may resonate beyond the regional sphere of activities. The world is again at the cusp of big powers tussle as China has become a potential contender to the United States due to its economic rise at an unexpected pace. Therefore, as a natural resort, the United States has been endeavoring to impede Chinese developments in political, economic and military domains. The world witnesses a tussle between the incumbent and rising powers to take the front seat. Washington, in its bid, came up with the Indo-Pacific strategy devising different action plans to impede China’s strides. The main concept behind this strategic framework is to form small groups of like-minded nations and put-up resistance to the Chinese advances. China responded to this strategy with its concept of collective security through Global Security Initiative (GSI). To equate China’s BRI, the United States offered the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF). It has been essentially a game of quid-pro-quo between the two. Above notwithstanding, China surprised the world lately with its diplomatic maneuver when it succeeded in Saudi-Iran rapprochement; a stroke that China played not only successfully but quite discreetly. The severed relations between the two countries since 2016 have now been repaired with the resumption of diplomatic ties.This rapprochement has opened a new vista for the regional countries to address inter-state political issues via mediation by China. It has added to China’s credibility as a dependable political actor. As expected, this move has been downplayed by China’s adversaries as a temporary reunion. When President Biden attended GCC Summit in Saudi Arabia in 2022, he was vociferous on not walking away and leaving a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran. However, during the last few months Riyadh has improved relations with China, Russia and subsequently with Iran.Soon after this rapprochement, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the oil-rich Arab kingdom in June 2023 to discuss matters of “mutual interest,” which could be easily discerned as it was Blinken who had earlier remarked that China had the intent and capability to challenge free, open, secure and prosperous international order. China’s political ingress into the region is noteworthy. Last year, KSA hosted Chinese President Xi for not only bilateral talks but also China-GCC and China-Arab summits. It worked more penetratingly than expected. China amazed the world when the long-time rivals – Saudi Arabia and Iran — shook hands. It was significant also because at the same time the United States was tightening the noose around Iran on renewing the nuclear deal. But Saudi Arabia is not the only country, which exercised this liberty. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), another important country of the region, also maintained good ties with China and improved relations with France who is also upset with Washington on the nuclear submarine deal with Australia under the ambit of AUKUS. It also engaged Iran, Russia and India. China’s outreach to the region is continuing as it hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Beijing in June 2023 where President Xi offered his services for peace talks between Palestine and Israel. He supported creation of an independent Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. Given the Chinese diplomatic skills proven in the Saudi-Iran case, the world can hope for settlement of an age-old issue in the Middle East. As soon as the Russia-Ukraine war commenced, the United States pressured certain Gulf countries to take sides clearly in the conflict. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia and some other regional countries continued their good relations with Russia. In fact, Riyadh has been purchasing Russian oil at cheaper rates and declined the US pressure for increasing its own production. Unshackling off the US dominance is becoming a regional phenomenon. The trade between China and the Middle East between 2000-21 grew from $15.3bn to $284.3bn while with the United States, it saw a modest increase from $63.4bn to $98.4bn. The power of economics has thus emboldened the traditional US allies to reach out to the rising giant of the east. In an interesting development on June 3, 2023, Iran announced a proposal for a regional maritime alliance that included Iran, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Iraq, Pakistan and India. The purpose for the alliance is to ensure regional security. Iran has always been averse to any foreign presence in the regional waters in the name of security. Post-1979 Revolution in Iran, the United States formed a Quick Reaction Force to patrol the Persian Gulf which ultimately acted against Iraqi forces in the 1990s. Iran has always objected to such presence. Now that its relations with the regional countries are normalizing and there are signs that the region is flouting the US impediments, Iran considers it the right time to manifest its intention. During his visit to Iran on June 17, the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan endorsed the idea by highlighting the importance of cooperation between the two countries, especially maritime security. Fate of such an alliance is still not clear, yet the idea has been coined which can be worked upon by the regional states. Earlier, Mr. Alireza Enayati, the newly-appointed Iranian envoy to Saudi Arabia, projected the notion of regional stability based on cooperation and development rather than militarization. Iran cautions the region about the forces that tend to foster antagonism among the regional neighbors to sell their arms. The United States on its part is continuing with its efforts to halt China’s progress. Two years back, it articulated Indo-Pacific strategy and formed new regional alliances. The Indo-Pacific region has more than 65% of GDP, while half of the

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Beyond Boundaries
Reema Shaukat

Pakistan and the Changing Strategic Milieu

Pakistan\’s geographic location, strategic capability, closeness to China, relations with regional countries and the US, and, most importantly, animosity towards India, have made the US Indo-Pacific strategy and its arrangements of interest to it.

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Commentary
Reema Shaukat

The Cowed Indian Aspirations

India has long prioritized its naval development and maritime strategy to materialize its ambitions of becoming the net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region. But with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, India\’s Maritime Strategy has become a real challenge for itself. The real test is to strike a balance between its alignment with Russia and a rather newly-found geostrategic convergence with the West and the US.

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