Chinese President Xi Jinping has hailed what he described as the easing of tensions in the Middle East during a call with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to restore diplomatic ties earlier in Beijing.
Longtime regional rivals, diplomatic ties between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran had been suspended for seven years. The two countries were also involved in a range of proxy conflicts, including the war in neighboring Yemen.
But on March 10, both countries announced they planned to exchange diplomatic missions following talks hosted by Beijing.
What did Xi say about the reconciliation?
In his first comments on the reconciliation, Xi told the Saudi crown prince on Tuesday that China would "play a major role in strengthening regional unity and cooperation," state media reported.
Bin Salman, who is also the country's prime minister, expressed "appreciation" for what he said was a Chinese initiative to support the restoration of ties.
The top diplomats of Saudi Arabia and Iran are due to meet during the ongoing Muslim holy month of Ramadan to revive relations. Both countries are preparing to reopen embassies in each other's capitals, per the reconciliation agreement. Saudi Arabia also invited Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to visit the country earlier this month.
Both Xi and bin Salman expressed the importance of strategic bilateral ties between their countries. Xi added that both countries would support each other and work to promote peace, stability and development in the Middle East.
China-Saudi strengthening relations?
China's progressing relationship with Saudi Arabia, among the world's top oil exporters, comes amid rising tension between Beijing and Washington.
China's growing influence in the Middle East increases its rivalry with the US, which historically had a strategic relationship with most countries in the region. But recently, some Gulf countries have expressed concern regarding what they said was US disengagement in the area, opting to diversify their security and economic partners.
On Wednesday, the Saudi government approved a decision to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The Organization was formed by Russia in 2001 and includes several countries in the Eurasia region, including China, India and Russia.
Last year, Iran also signed up for full membership in the SCO.
Also earlier this week, Saudi Arabia's oil giant Aramco raised its multi-billion dollar investment in China, announcing two deals. The deals are the biggest since Xi visited Saudi Arabia last December.
Sources told the Reuters news agency that Saudi Arabia's SCO membership was discussed during Xi's visit to the Kingdom.
rmt/sms (AFP, Reuters)