China brokers deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hello and good Monday morning to everybody. It's Ian Bremmer here, and a Quick Take to kick off your week. Want to talk about China and specifically this big announcement, a breakthrough diplomatic deal negotiated by Xi Jinping, between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Two countries with all sorts of problems between the two proxy wars and major security challenges. When they had the big demonstrations inside Iran against the government, they were blaming the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia for undermining and trying to overthrow the regime. And now instead, you have the Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers meeting together with the Chinese Foreign Minister and signing a trilateral agreement saying that they're going to open formal diplomatic relations within two months.
That's a big deal for a China that historically would have played no leadership role in any major negotiations outside of things that are of critical national security importance in Asia, in their backyard. And here we have Xi Jinping announcing a deal that the Americans, the Europeans, literally played no role in and couldn't play a role. The United States doesn't have diplomatic relations open with Iran. Should be welcomed by the world. It's better for everyone if these two major countries in the region are able to engage diplomatically with each other. But of course, it also shows a more significant footprint for Xi Jinping's China on the global stage. A country that right now has bad relations with the United States, no trust and increasingly heading in a confrontational direction.
Now, this doesn't mean the end of US influence in other areas. If we talk about Asia, for example, it's true the Americans withdrew, were not able to get the Trans-Pacific Partnership done, which would've been a big deal. But the US is utterly critical from the security perspective for all of its allies on the ground. Its building more architecture, particularly in terms of the Quad. And indeed, today you've got Biden meeting with the Australian Prime Minister, with the UK Prime Minister in San Diego, in part because of the August submarine and security agreement. Again, important for Asia in Europe, the US is more important from a security perspective, given the Russian invasion in Ukraine.
But on the Middle East, where the Biden administration doesn't really have a strategic policy, things are very different indeed. The US is on the wrong side of most Middle Eastern countries. From an energy perspective, the United States under Biden talking about a transition away from fossil fuels, but not talking a lot about the fossil fuels that are required to get there. And given that this is the most important economic interest for Gulf producers, you could understand, they don't see themselves as very aligned with the United States there. Where with China, which is increasingly the last country standing in terms of global fossil fuel demand, and the Saudis in particular in terms of inexpensive global fossil fuel supply, that alignment should surprise nobody.
Diplomacy, with the Biden administration saying that the world is increasingly a battle between democracies and autocracies. Well, I mean, if that's the case, I guess the United States doesn't have much to do in the Middle East where there's barely any democracies around, I mean, Israel, and they're hanging on at this point, though Netanyahu is doing what he can to undermine it. And you get beyond that, and where should the Americans be in the Middle East if they're fighting against autocracies? And of course, the Chinese see that as a vacuum created, that is an opportunity for them.
On security, the United States still plays a very important intelligence, military weapon export and strategic alignment, certainly in terms of Qatar, but also the UAE, Saudis and others. But keeping in mind that the Americans withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal that was supposed to be providing some level of stability and security in the region, the Americans haven't been effective in bringing peace on Yemen, something the Chinese have expressed more interest in recently. And in response to say, Iranian drone strikes on Saudi Arabia, on the UAE, the United States was not acting like much of a strategic ally. For all of those regions, that the level of commitment that the Gulf Arabs see from the United States is open to question. And that meant that they were very happy to see a China that's investing a lot in the region even, yes, with their adversaries, the Iranians saying, "We'll play a role in fostering and brokering peace." The Saudis very interested, the Iranians very interested. Now, you're going to see Beijing host a broader summit for the Gulf Cooperation Council in Beijing. And the Iranians are going to be likely invited to that as long as the GCC can get its head around it. So I think that China's role is structurally becoming far greater. This feels like a very different Middle East than we had in past years, nevermind decades.
And also, we should talk about Russia-Ukraine, where not only have the Chinese put out this 12-point peace plan, which the Russians have said they're interested in, the Ukrainians have not refused, but certainly have problems with. Well, now it looks like Xi Jinping is finally going to have a direct phone call after being pushed, particularly by the Germans, the French, and others to make that happen. Looks like they are going to talk in the coming week and indeed, that Xi Jinping is planning a trip to Moscow to meet with President Putin soon. Big difference between meeting with, as opposed to a call, and of course, big difference between China's strategic partnership with Russia, and Putin and ostensible, performative, nominal recognition of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is aligned with the way China feels about Taiwan being a part of mainland China. But doesn't mean the Chinese are going to either condemn the Russians for an illegal invasion, illegal annexations, or try to broker a deal where they leave all of the territory that they have taken illegally since February 24th, nevermind since 2014.
I'm deeply skeptical that the Chinese have a constructive role to play in bringing peace to Russia-Ukraine. But I clearly see that China is in a much better position to align much of the world with a ceasefire and peace in Russia-Ukraine, when they are claiming that the Americans are pushing for escalation by providing all of the military support for Ukraine and by pushing sanctions. Those are completely understandable, and positions I personally support in response to Russia's illegal invasion, but from the perspective of the entire developing world. And I mean everyone, I mean Latin America, Brazil, Mexico, I mean the Middle East, I mean Africa, I mean Southeast Asia, I mean even India, a country that's in principle much more aligned with the US than China on most national security issues. All of these countries generally believe that the Americans are pushing escalation in the war in Russia-Ukraine, and that the Chinese are taking a more constructive position, a position that they are more aligned with. And so this Xi Jinping trip to Moscow is I think going to be much friendlier than one would've expected in the last few months. Really, at any time since the war started on February 24th. May well be more aligned with the joint statement you saw at the Beijing Olympics back in February 4th. And that, of course, is a very deep problem for the United States, especially on the back of Xi Jinping's statements about the US directly that he made just a week ago. Probably the most hawkish direct statements made by a Chinese leader about the US that we've seen in decades.
So, deeply concerning geopolitically, probably the worst week geopolitically the United States has had in years. That's where we are. China's a very big part of it, Russia's a part too, and we'll talk about this. I'm sure very much going forward. Be good. I'll talk to you soon.