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Source: AP News

Mar 11, 2023

BEIJING — After hosting talks at which Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations, China said Saturday it has no hidden motives and isn’t trying to fill any “vacuum” in the Middle East.The agreement announced Friday to reestablish Iran-Saudi ties and reopen embassies after seven years was seen as a major diplomatic victory for China, as Gulf Arab states perceive the United States as reducing its presence in the Middle East.

The Foreign Ministry quoted an unidentified spokesperson as saying China “pursues no selfish interest whatsoever” and opposes geopolitical competition in the region.

China will continue to support Mideast countries in “resolving differences through dialogue and consultation to jointly promote lasting peace and stability,” the spokesperson said.

“We respect the stature of Middle East countries as the masters of this region and oppose geopolitical competition in the Middle East,” said the statement posted on the Foreign Ministry's website.

“China has no intention to and will not seek to fill so-called vacuum or put up exclusive blocs,” it said, in an apparent reference to the U.S. “China will continue to contribute its insights and proposals to realizing peace and tranquility in the Middle East and play its role as a responsible major country in this process.”

Following Friday’s announcement, China’s senior diplomat Wang Yi said the agreement showed China was a “reliable mediator” that had “faithfully fulfilled its duties as the host.”

Notably, Wang also stated that “this world has more than just the Ukraine question and there are still many issues affecting peace and people’s lives.”

China has been heavily criticized for failing to condemn Russia’s invasion and for accusing the U.S. and NATO of provoking the conflict. A Chinese proposal calling for a cease-fire and peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine went nowhere, largely because of China’s perceived backing of Russia.

However, in the Middle East, China is viewed as a neutral party, with strong ties to both Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

China last month hosted Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi, and is a top purchaser of Saudi oil. Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited Riyadh in December for meetings with oil-rich Gulf Arab nations crucial to China’s energy supplies, and China’s special envoy for the Middle East — a position specially created in 2002 — has made frequent trips to the region.

China sells drones and other weaponry to countries in the region, but nowhere on the scale of the United States.

In coordination with fellow authoritarian state Russia, China has sought to steadily chip away at the U.S.-led Western liberal order, taking advantage of opportunities when Washington’s attention has strayed.

Earlier, it moved aggressively to build ties in the South Pacific, signing a security agreement with the Solomon Islands that could see Chinese naval ships and security forces taking up a presence in the country. The U.S., Australia and others moved swiftly to shore up ties in the Pacific, and China’s efforts to ink similar agreements with other island nations ultimately foundered.

Xi, whose administration in recent days has warned of “conflict and confrontation” with the U.S., was credited in a trilateral statement with facilitating the Iran-Saudi talks through a “noble initiative” and having personally agreed to sponsor the negotiations that lasted from Monday through Friday.

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