When Arab leaders met Xi Jinping at a regional summit in Riyadh last December, the Chinese head of state pitched an unprecedented idea: a high-level gathering of Gulf Arab monarchs and Iranian officials in Beijing in 2023, people familiar with the plan said. Days later, Tehran signed on as well.
By Friday, China had brokered a deal to restore relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which had gone seven years without ties. The broader summit between Iran and the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which hasn’t previously been reported, is on track for later this year, the people said.
Mr. Xi’s diplomatic initiative shows that Beijing sees a central role for itself as a new power broker in the Middle East, a strategic region where the U.S. has been the most influential outside player for decades. No longer focused exclusively on energy and trade flows, China’s foray into the region’s politics signals a new chapter in competition between Beijing and Washington.
The Saudi-Iran deal, hashed out behind closed doors in Beijing last week, takes on some of the most sensitive issues between two countries that have been on opposite sides of proxy conflicts across the Middle East for years. [Continue reading…]