China has been seeking military bases of its own in the region as it pursues energy resources and influence beyond Asia. The decision to involve itself in the Saudi-Iranian rift makes clear that there is another player to be reckoned with.

The article hints at what China might have gained, but I am sure there was a lot more to gain from this, as I don't believe China would have gone through all the trouble to broker a peace deal between the two given the animosity between the two. What are other things China have to gain from this brokered peace?

3 Answers 3



If tensions rise, oil trade could be affected and affect very negatively China, both because of increasingly expensive oil for China and because the economy of China's customers would also suffer.

That alone would justify China's interest in good relations in the area, specially since it has no major standing issues with any of these countries so it is not worried if Iran or Saudi Arabia situation improves.

Soft power

China has shown that it can have influence beyond his region. So, that could persuade other countries to value more being in good standing with China, in case they need their services.


In your question, you state

China would have went through all the troubles to broker a peace deal between the two given the animosity between the two

IMO it paints the treaty as if it were something that China had imposed or coerced on Iran and Saudi Arabia, which would have never agreed to that otherwise. But I do not read it that way.

  • The pact is only is for restablishing normal diplomatic relationships. This is very basic stuff and is just a little above of "not being at war with each other." It might signal an interest of both parties for further ties, but means no actual compromise.

  • Related to the above, it is a pact that probably both countries wanted.

  • That does not mean that mediation by China (or other country) was unncessary or unhelpful. A third party in the negotiations provides a mediator, a way of discreetly establishing communications, and gives a measure of insurance if any of the parties was acting in bad faith (if Saudi Arabia or Iran were to somehow use the pact to damage the other party, China would not be happy and that is somewhat of a deterrent).

So, there may be some trouble in brokering a pact like that (mainly the risk of it being short lived, which would decrease China's diplomatic status) but it is not that much.


China gains:

  • Prestige from having brokered this hard to achieve deal.
  • Increase in its rank as world power compared to its rival the United States.


The Americans, who have been the central actors in the Middle East for the past three-quarters of a century, almost always the ones in the room where it happened, now find themselves on the sidelines during a moment of significant change. The Chinese, who for years played only a secondary role in the region, have suddenly transformed themselves into the new power player. And the Israelis, who have been courting the Saudis against their mutual adversaries in Tehran, now wonder where it leaves them.

“There is no way around it — this is a big deal,” said Amy Hawthorne, deputy director for research at the Project on Middle East Democracy, a nonprofit group in Washington. “Yes, the United States could not have brokered such a deal right now with Iran specifically, since we have no relations. But in a larger sense, China’s prestigious accomplishment vaults it into a new league diplomatically and outshines anything the U.S. has been able to achieve in the region since Biden came to office.”
Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former ambassador to Israel and Egypt now at Princeton University, said the shifting dynamics represented by the Chinese-brokered pact still pose a challenge to the Biden administration when it would prefer to focus elsewhere.

“It’s a sign of Chinese agility to take advantage of some anger directed at the United States by Saudi Arabia and a little bit of a vacuum there,” he said. “And it’s a reflection of the fact that the Saudis and Iranians have been talking for some time. And it’s an unfortunate indictment of U.S. policy.”

Peter Baker. "Iran-Saudi Pact Is Brokered by China, Leaving U.S. on Sidelines". The New York Times, March 11, 2023: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/11/us/politics/saudi-arabia-iran-china-biden.html

“Renewed Iran-Saudi ties as a result of Chinese mediation is a lose, lose, lose for American interests. It demonstrates that the Saudis don’t trust Washington to have their back, that Iran sees an opportunity to peel away American allies to end its international isolation, and it establishes China as the majordomo of Middle Eastern power politics.” — Mark Dubowitz, FDD CEO

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD): "Saudi Arabia, Iran Agree to Reestablish Diplomatic Ties". March 10, 2023: https://www.fdd.org/analysis/2023/03/10/saudi-arabia-iran-agree-to-reestablish-diplomatic-ties/

For China, the agreement solidifies its legitimacy as a heavyweight diplomatic mediator able to resolve the most antagonistic geostrategic competition in the region. It could create the first conditions for a shift in the strategic balance in the context of rivalry with the United States in the Gulf. China’s ambitions to position itself as a credible peacemaker have a broader scope covering conflicts in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, especially after this agreement. This could be problematic in Washington. The United States’ hesitance to spend more political capital on mediating conflicts is increasingly seen in the Middle East as evidence of the United States’ declining power and its focus on competition with China in the Indo-Pacific. The agreement could also provide the Chinese leadership with more strategic options since de-escalating tensions between Riyadh and Tehran creates a thin layer of security and stability necessary for oil exports bound to China, trade sea lines of communication, and Chinese Belt and Road investments.

Ahmed Aboudouh, cited in: "Experts react: Iran and Saudi Arabia just agreed to restore relations, with help from China. Here’s what that means for the Middle East and the world". New Atlanticist, March 10, 2023: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/experts-react/experts-react-iran-and-saudi-arabia-just-agreed-to-restore-relations-with-help-from-china-heres-what-that-means-for-the-middle-east-and-the-world/

  • Yes. And less Saudi/US alignment and less Saudi-Iran rivalry also could also mean less lucrative arms deals in the region for US arms companies long term, IF PEACE MATERIALIZES which is more doubtful. Giving US weapon manufacturers less economy of scale. About 3.5B$ are to actors involved in Iran rivalry statista.com/statistics/1006329/… For comparison the US arms exports were in the 10B$ range : statista.com/statistics/248521/us-arms-exports Commented Mar 11, 2023 at 22:50
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica: meh, I think that the Saudis not being directly involved in Yemen [anymore] means the US is more likely to sell them new toys, not less/fewer. OTOH the conclusion is pretty much that the Houthis have won the war (at least in terms of are/population they control, relative to the opposition). Commented Mar 12, 2023 at 9:07

Some days ago, when Xi Jinping visited KSA, he signed agreements so that KSA would accept Chinese currency for oil sales.

China is also developing a money transfer network as part of the BRICS framework that will work in parallel with SWIFT.

I think China is trying to establish a banking network to bypass USD and pushing all oil-producing countries to join that network.


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