Source: CGTN Published: 2019-2-24
Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman paid a two-day visit to China from Thursday to Friday, during which the two sides signed a series of deals on political cooperation and investment in energy and other sectors. Bin Salman met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday, just three days after Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani's visit with Xi.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are important to China
According to Wang Peng, an associate research fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, over the past decade, China has enjoyed good relations with both Iran and Saudi Arabia. Political and economic cooperation between China and the two countries has been close.
"China has long held good diplomatic relations with both Iran and Saudi Arabia, and China hopes Saudi Arabia and Iran can have a good relationship," Wang said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with visiting Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, February 20, 2019. /Xinhua Photo
China has always supported Iran on the international stage. Despite the sanctions imposed by the U.S., Beijing is willing to cooperate with Tehran. “No matter how the international and regional situation changes, China's resolve to develop a comprehensive strategic partnership with Iran will remain unchanged,” Xi said during the meeting with Larijani on Wednesday.
As for the economy, China and Iran have a close relationship. China is Iran's top export country, spending 16.9 billion U.S. dollars on Iranian goods in 2017. China is Iran's top country of origin for imports. In 2017, Iran imported 18.4 billion U.S. dollars' worth of Chinese good, exceeding the sum of the next four highest countries.
In addition to Iran, Saudi Arabia is also an important economic partner of China in the Middle East.
According to the General Administration of Customs of China, China's total crude oil import from Saudi Arabia increased by 48 percent in 2018, making Saudi Arabia China's second largest crude oil supplier after Russia.
“Building a close relationship with both Iran and Saudi Arabia with regards to politics and economy will bring the greatest benefits to not only China and the Middle East but the whole world,” Wang said.
China aims to improve Iran-Saudi Arabia ties
Some people argue that China is developing relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia, which face mutual contempt due to religious and diplomatic reasons, simultaneously to minimize potential risks. China is running with the hare and hunting with the hounds in order to maximize its interests in the Middle East.
“It's totally wrong to say that China is taking advantage of the conflicts between Iran and Saudi Arabia for the sake of its own interests,” Wang said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's crown prince, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, February 22, 2019. /Xinhua Photo
In Wang's opinion, China's good relationship with both Iran and Saudi Arabia is not to manipulate the conflict between the two. Instead, China hopes Saudi Arabia and Iran can share a positive relationship with each other because only then can there be a safe and stable Middle East, which will allow the Belt and Road initiative (BRI) to be properly implemented.
“China has long held good diplomatic relations with both Iran and Saudi Arabia. Now under the BRI framework, China hopes both countries can work well together,” Wang said.
From China's perspective, a positive relationship with Middle Eastern countries, especially Saudi Arabia and Iran, is in its best interest. And a positive relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran would be even more beneficial, Wang said.
The BRI is a way for China to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests, but also a way for China to use its global influence to help make peace between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
“China has always been working at deepening its cooperation with both Iran and Saudi Arabia in an effort to fulfill its promise of being a responsible global power," Wang said.
China's goal is to bring mutual benefits to both the Middle East and itself through developing relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia, the region's two powers. Meanwhile, China also wants the two countries to bury the hatchet, not only to create an encouraging situation for the BRI but also to fulfill its commitment to global peace.
The article is based on an interview with Wang Peng, an associate research fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.