The international system is undergoing a rapid transformation with intense uncertainty and signs of fragmentation. This transformation is having a significant impact on regional crisis points.

China's growing influence in the Middle East, which is pursuing a global "security breakthrough" (Global Security Initiative) in the context of deepening rivalry with the United States, has important implications for regional security.

In this regard, the consensus between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two regional powers with a long history of tension and crisis in the Middle East, facilitated by Beijing, indicates China's growing influence.

Diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have been wholly severed for (7) years.

Following the execution of (47) people in Saudi Arabia on terrorism charges in 2016, including Shiite cleric Nimr Bakr al-Nimr, Iran reacted strongly. It was set fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and the consulate buildings in Mashhad.

Following these events, diplomatic relations between the two countries were severed entirely.

The ongoing regional struggle over the Yemen war and the drone attacks on the Saudi-owned ARAMCO caused tensions to escalate.

It is a fact that the sectarian differences between the two countries have created sectarian geopolitics in the region.

Against this backdrop, Iran and Saudi Arabia met in Beijing last week and agreed to revive relations and reopen their embassies as part of a Chinese-brokered deal.

The conclusion of the deal was remarkable because the delegations of the two countries have previously met in Baghdad and Muscat, Oman, on several occasions. It has been widely reported that intense diplomatic negotiations have been underway for some time. 

Even the resumption of Iranian diplomats' duties at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Jeddah in 2022 was seen as a gesture of goodwill to improve relations.

Beijing-led agreement caused a stir in diplomatic circles and the media.

China's top diplomat Wang Yi declared the Iran-Saudi Arabia talks a victory for dialogue and peace.

Hu Xijin, the former editor of the Global Times, even declared that such a major diplomatic breakthrough was comparable to the 1978 Camp David and 1993 Oslo Accords.

China has been engaged in diplomatic traffic among the countries of the region for a long time.

After President Xi Jinping's "groundbreaking visit" to Saudi Arabia at the end of last year, Iran was disturbed and vocal about it. Iranian President Reisi's visit to Beijing last month aimed to renew and stabilize relations with China. 

This diplomatic activity in a short span of time has resulted in a balancing attempt on the Chinese side. While Iran is trying to consolidate its regional hegemony, it is undergoing a process in which it is facing economic crisis and social unrest at home and is being exhausted over the Syria and Yemen issue abroad.

Iran has been striving to increase its leverage for a long time. Given that Iran has not yielded on the nuclear issue and faces severe pressure from the US and Israel, it is understandable that Iran is leaning towards China and Russia.

President Reisi's signing of a decree on Iran's accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) before his visit to China is one of the key indicators of his efforts to increase his leverage.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has been pursuing a significant and balanced position in the global arena in light of the harm caused by the war in Yemen and its hedging as a survival strategy.  The US inaction in response to the Houthi attacks on its oil facilities has cast doubt on the security guarantees provided by the US for years.

China has signaled a more proactive global approach with its recently announced Global Security Initiative. The peace plan on Ukraine and the Iran-Saudi deal that followed were the concrete results of this initiative.

The Chinese side emphasized that the agreement "sets a good example of how countries in the region can resolve disputes through dialogue and consultation."

Iran also said that the agreement with Saudi Arabia would help end the war in Yemen, confirming that the consensus will lead to concrete results.

It is well known that China needs to engage more in political and security issues in its Middle East policy. But with today's mediation, we see that this period is ending, and China will be more proactive in the region.

As China expands its economic, political, and military footprint in the Middle East, it becomes an increasingly important player in the region's geopolitics.

China's growing role in the region has created new opportunities for Iran and Saudi Arabia to engage with each other. In recent years, China has tried to maintain stability and avoid taking sides in disputes by balancing its relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia.

With this agreement, the situation has entered a more dynamic process. It is uncertain whether this cohesion of the three countries, which is perceived against the established global order, will create a solid position. The effects of this agreement, which has created a highly influential and spectacular diplomatic wind, seem to last for a long time.

Time will tell whether it is a short-term truce or a long-term peace between two regional rivals. For China to stand behind this deal will require significant security commitments.

The question remains whether China possesses the capability to demonstrate its will.

The Global Security Initiative posits that China can do so, at least on a rhetorical level. However, the contrast between China’s rhetorical presence in the region and the United States’ military influence raises concerns.

For instance, Iran has not relented on the nuclear issue, which continues to be a critical point of contention. The United States’ stance towards the deal remains uncertain, but it is undoubtedly a source of discomfort.

Additionally, the impact of China’s undertaking of this challenge on the highly stratified security environment in the Middle East requires further clarification. Israel’s attempts to establish a regional coalition against Iran have been significantly impeded, and the waning of United States’ influence in the region has become apparent.

In short, China seeks to take on a more proactive role in the Middle East's security architecture with this agreement. As the battle for global dominance intensifies, this trend is gaining traction, and China may soon become more actively engaged in security matters.

The Middle East, a geopolitical battleground, is likely to remain a significant front in the competition between the United States and China.

Note: This article was published in Turkish on my blog on March 14, 2023.

Dr.Hüseyin Korkmaz. The author is a researcher focusing on China and geopolitics in the Asia, primarily related to the US-China relations.