There is no doubt that Arab-Chinese relations have been growing and developing for decade.
From an Arab governmental point of view, China is seen as an important supporter of Arab issues guaranteeing a sense of balance within the boundaries of international relations as well as an integral trade partner and supplier of economically viable goods and technology.
For China, Arab countries represented reciprocal international support for its causes as well as important markets for Chinese products and an even much more important source for fossil fuels. From a bilateral point of view, both the Arab countries and China shared common threats and pressures from the US and its allies. In the ever-evolving scene of international relations and consequent interests, both the Arab countries and China find it necessary to redesign and adjust their relative strategies to help manoeuvre and enable them to face challenges, confront threats, and most importantly, grasp opportunities.
China’s interest in the Middle East region has not been limited to Arab countries. It has developed relations with all the regional key players, such as Iran, Israel, and Turkey. China has long held that its main international relations driver has been commerce and trade specially focused with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI); seemingly all its moves are justifiable under this pretext.
Within the context of the BRI and its overall global strategic positioning in competition with the US and all other players, China advanced its position with a move towards the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran, a prominent force in the Middle East, has been playing a controversial role of exporting its brand of religious clergy revolutions towards its neighbours, supporting paramilitary groups outside state control in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Gaza, and inciting religious tensions in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and throughout the GCC region.
Iran continues to develop ballistic missile and drone technology to threaten its neighbours and deter other players in the region, develop a large scale nuclear programme that can turn from peaceful to military in a short period of time, threaten maritime navigation in the Arabian Gulf, and most recently was accused of backing and supporting attacks on the biggest oil refineries and production facilities in the KSA.
Overall, Iran continues to play a destabilising role in the Middle East, and now China has stepped in to back up the Ayatollah regime with a $400 billion “strategic agreement” that extends for 25 years.
On 24 June 2020, China and Iran signed an undisclosed strategic agreement which is viewed by many if not all of the involved parties in the Middle East region as a critical move for its timing and expected outcomes. How will this strategic agreement affect the dynamics of events in the region and the quality of Arab-Chinese relations now and in the future? What does each party to the agreement expect to achieve?