China's recent success in brokering a rapprochement between longtime rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, which it is touting as a diplomatic coup, in fact capitalises on years of quiet talks and diplomacy spearheaded by Iraq and Oman.
"China didn't simply swoop in and make the disputing parties suddenly get along," the Washington Post noted in a March 12 analysis.
It was Iraq, in fact, that initiated mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia in 2019 to mend a break in relations that occurred in 2016, "mostly passing messages between the two sides", Al-Monitor reported Saturday (March 18).
Between 2020 and 2022, Iraq went on to organise and host five rounds of negotiations in Baghdad.
"It is unfortunate that China attributes what it considers to be an achievement and a success to its diplomacy, while failing to acknowledge Iraq's role," Baghdad resident Munim Mohammed told Al-Mashareq.
"Iraq's mediation was based on a real desire to put an end to the disputes that were negatively affecting its security," he said, "while China's goal is to swallow up the region by putting its hands on its resources".
Baghdad resident Hassan al-Dulaimi meanwhile accused China of marginalising the Iraqi role in bringing about the detente.
China seeks political clout
China's mediation between Saudi Arabia and Iran is part of a long-term policy to "dominate" the Middle East and exploit its resources, Iraqi analysts told Al-Mashareq.
China has tried to portray itself as a neutral mediator, they said, suggesting that by virtue of its positive relations with all parties it can lead initiatives for lasting peace in the region.
In reality, however, it seeks to create a space for itself to intervene in a way that only supports its own economic interests, Iraqi political analyst Tariq al-Shammari told Al-Mashareq.
China is looking for "political roles" to play in the Middle East to open broader paths in its relations with the countries of the region that are not limited to trade exchange and investments, he said.
By taking credit for the hard work Iraq put into mending relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, China aims to present itself as an "influential international player" and advance its strategic policy to dominate the region, he added.
Recent intensive visits by Chinese officials to the region and the joint summits held with Arab and Gulf leaders in December are part of the political activity aimed at strengthening Beijing's influence, al-Shammari said.
Securing China's interests
By diversifying its relationships in the Middle East, China hopes to gain greater control over the energy sources it needs to secure its economy's urgent needs, al-Shammari said.
He noted that at present, China is the largest buyer of Iranian oil.
China is the main destination for Iran's illicit exports, US special envoy to Iran Robert Malley told Bloomberg TV on January 23.
China also depends to a large extent on oil imports from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, analysts said, noting that regional stability guarantees China's interests and helps it further its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Through the BRI, also known as One Belt One Road (OBOR), China aspires to become the strongest economy in the world, they said.
Within the framework of the BRI, China is spending billions to establish road and infrastructure networks and in the Middle East that would enhance its global trade while depleting the region's resources and shackling it with debt.
"Beijing's speed and determination [in pursuing the BRI] has been most evident in the Middle East," according to a January 2022 report by the Arab Centre Washington DC (ACW).
China "has pumped at least $123 billion into the Middle East in BRI-related project financing", it noted.
"While China's Middle East engagement strategy may be touted as benign, in fact it has gone hand in hand with the expansion of China's military and diplomatic profile in the Middle East," the report said.