The changes in the Middle East, especially in the Persian Gulf region, are one of the most important changes that have occurred in the field of international politics in recent years. These changes are such that it can be said that they have redefined the foreign policy of many countries and especially the great powers towards this region. In the meantime, changing China's approach as a superpower towards the changes in this region is of particular importance. The role of China in the context of changes in the Persian Gulf region has added a new and important variable to the variables shaping the events of this region, without paying attention to it, a detailed analysis of the changes in this region cannot be presented.
Considering that in this study, the issue of expanding China's activities in the Persian Gulf region will be discussed, it can be viewed from two views. The first point of view is that now that the United States is engaged in a war with Russia in Ukraine, China is gradually expanding its influence with the aim of changing the order of the region and intends to trust for itself as a capable partner in the region in a so-called strategic indifference of Washington The flourishing of diplomatic activities between China and the countries of the Middle East is a symbol of this trend. At the same time, China tends to portray itself as a different kind of major power. According to the second point of view, China has reached a level of credibility in the international system that regional and international powers invite that country to take a greater role in creating peace in the international system. An example of this claim is the consent of Iran and Saudi Arabia to China's mediation or the invitation of France and the European Union to Beijing to mediate in the Ukraine crisis.
- Beijing's run-up to expand its influence in the Persian Gulf region
China's mediation for the agreement to normalize relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia has now become the top news of China's movements in this region. However, this change, which is considered a turning point in China's activism not only in the political and diplomatic arena, is not an activism without context and background, and in the light of the "wisdom of Chinese performance" which has always been a guiding light for the decisions and actions of that country and it can be interpreted under China's long-term plans. Therefore, the authors consider this action as a change that has taken place along Beijing's run-up to expand its influence in the Persian Gulf region.
Economically, the Middle East has welcomed Beijing for a long time. Beijing today has deep interests in the Middle East; it relies on this region to provide energy in order to continue its change process, and the volume of trade between China and the countries of the region exceeded 200 billion dollars last year. China is actually the first trading partner of the Middle East. China is also the largest source of imports for Egypt, Israel and Lebanon and the second largest source of imports for Turkey, Syria and Jordan. It should also be noted that Syria has recently signed a Belt-Road cooperation agreement with Beijing and Morocco has also designed a roadmap for Belt-Road cooperation with Beijing.
China has not neglected the security architecture of the region. For example, the Chinese fleet has been active in the Gulf of Aden since 2008. What is particularly important in this regard is China's careful attention to maintaining the balance among the powers of this region. China is helping that country to develop Saudi Arabia's ballistic missile program, while the 25-year 400 billion dollar contract with Iran and Iran's membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization are signs of Beijing's desire to maintain a balanced approach in the region.
- Understanding China's behavior
What is China's method to increase influence in the region? Historically, despite being ahead in the economic field, China has avoided intervening in conflicts and differences of opinion, and in this field, it had left the field to America. However, after strengthening his foothold in the region in terms of economy and political confidence building through the agreements it made with the great powers of this region, it provided itself with the space for political and trend-setting actions in the region. An ancient Chinese teaching believes that "a wise man changes his ways after changing circumstances, and the knowledgeable person changes his tools and methods with the evolution of time". Shortly before China's recent move to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the foreign minister of that country stated that the Middle East is a region that has suffered from long-term conflicts and unrest caused by foreign interventions and that this region never has a vacuum of power and does not require the force that supports it from the outside. This signal has indicated China's constructive effort to eliminate the trend-setting influence of the United States in the region. The argument of the researchers of this study is that the process of playing an exclusively economic role of China in the region and merely observing China in the political and security affairs of this region is changing. Also, this diplomatic activism can be seen as a step for a wider activism in the field of the international system. In fact, China has stepped into a new territory by mediating the relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. In other words, Beijing is now ready to enter the field of diplomatic activism and political influence in world affairs. On the other hand, due to China's economic and military power, that country has reached a level of political credibility that the countries of the world are also ready to accept China's more activeness in the international system. Now China's ability to negotiate and mediate has pushed that country towards responsibility to assume a role in the international system. Until a few years ago, one of the principles of China's foreign policy was conservatism, or "ambiguity of Deng". Deng's thought about keeping capabilities hidden and giving time to issues was used as the guiding star of China's foreign policy for thirty years. During this period, China was extremely cautious and passive in the world arena. This trend changed around 2009; at that time, China realized that it had achieved a sufficient amount of national power, and this event coincided with the world financial crisis and Beijing's hosting of the 2008 Olympics. The world financial crisis caused the West's strong influence to decline and China to behave less cautiously in its international relations than before. Since 2013, by reaching the power of Xi Jinping and the gradual decline in the American hegemonic role in the international system, China has concluded that in order to secure national interests, it was forced to abandon Deng's conservative policy. Accordingly, we are witnessing a gradual increase in China's role in international developments, which its modern manifestation is China's mediation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Saudi Arabia.
- Outcomes of China's political activism
It is necessary to pay attention to the outcomes of China's political activism in the international arena. Now, by using soft power and refraining from coercive expansion of hegemonic rule, China has become a responsible shareholder in the international system and actively participates in international institutions and organizations. In addition to the regional powers, the first-class world powers also want China to play a greater role in ensuring the stability of the international system. Now, components including China's abandonment of the low-profile policy, China's effort to maintain the balance between regional powers, the consequences of China gaining political power in the Persian Gulf region as a powerful competitor for the United States, also, the internal changes of the region, such as Ibrahim's Accords, are puzzle pieces that provide a general picture for analyzing the regional situation and correctly assessing the regional conditions with regard to regional and extra-regional activists. It seems necessary to pay attention to all the aforementioned influential factors to understand China's behavior and its outcomes in the region.
Parisa Shahmohammadi and Reza Mostafaei, experts of the Institute for Political and International Studies
(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)