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Absent America paves the way for the Chinese beast

China-led deal in the Middle East demonstrates the failure of Joe Biden’s foreign policy

Chinese diplomat Wang Yi, center, presides over a closed meeting between envoys from Iran and Saudi Arabia in Beijing on March 11. Luo Xiaoguang/Xinhua via Associated Press

Absent America paves the way for the Chinese beast
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Once again, China shocks the world.

In a momentous sign of strength, assertiveness, and influence, Chinese diplomats supervised an unexpected deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Within two months, states the agreement, the two rival Muslim nations will reopen their respective embassies and restore their diplomatic relations after seven years of tension and isolation. The details of the deal—besides the exchange of diplomats—are ambiguous, but its message is starkly loud and clear: China, here and now, is a major leader in Middle Eastern politics.

The Associated Press reports that the deal “represents one of the most striking shifts in Middle Eastern diplomacy over recent years.”

Of course, there is a certain irony in this deal. Here we have a communist dictatorship leading two theocratic Muslim nations—one Sunni and the other Shiite—to a political reconciliation. What about the continued reported atrocities against the Uighur Muslims under the Chinese government? Both Muslim nations seem to have ignored such a reality. It seems that for these Muslim nations, the ends justify the means and the rhetoric about the persecution of fellow Muslims only comes in handy when needed.

More importantly, the two Muslim nations clearly sought to send a message to the West.

Traditionally, these kinds of diplomatic super deals have been cut under the patronage of global Western titans like the United States, United Kingdom, and France. But now, the Muslim nations made a calculated step to grant China a major diplomatic victory despite its infamous reputation as a violator of human rights against Muslims. Muslim signers paved the way for China to emerge as a giant of Middle Eastern diplomacy, especially as the deal was shaped completely behind closed doors until announced.

While it is premature to evaluate the possible consequences of this deal, it clearly serves as a testimony of the severe failure of U.S. foreign policy under President Joe Biden, particularly in the Middle East, especially as compared to his predecessor.

Attempting to appease his political base, Biden sought to marginalize Saudi Arabia, only to discover he chose a truly bad direction.

Unlike Biden, former President Donald J. Trump was absolutely clear about his disposition towards the Middle East. In his first international trip to the region, Trump visited Saudi Arabia, treating it as his major ally against radical Islamist movements and thus consolidating efforts against al-Qaeda and ISIS. He also sharply isolated Iran by withdrawing from Obama’s nuclear deal.

Despite all allegations against Trump as anti-Muslim, Saudi Arabia—as the major Sunni Muslim power worldwide—valued his leadership and showed interest in his policies, as evidenced in the Kingdom granting the green light for the Abraham Accords, opening the doors for many Arab nations to normalize relations with Israel. In fact, some were greatly hopeful that Saudi would join the accords.

When Biden took office, U.S.-Saudi relations deteriorated severely, because he floundered. He appeared uncertain as to whether he should follow the footsteps of Trump or Obama. Lacking the charisma of Obama and the determination of Trump, Biden’s policies resulted in the United States losing the enthusiastic support of one of her major allies in a socio-politically complex region, especially with his chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. According to The Wall Street Journal, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman reportedly mocked Biden and stated he “much preferred former President Donald Trump.”

Worse, while many Arab countries have voiced their concerns about Iran’s threats, Biden showed reluctance to clearly condemn the Shiite regime, thus confusing the Arab nations: For at least a year into his presidency, Biden has entertained the very bad idea of reviving Iran’s nuclear deal. Attempting to appease his political base, Biden sought to marginalize Saudi Arabia, only to discover he chose a truly bad direction.

Biden’s decisions—or their lack thereof—forced the Arab nations, especially the Saudis, to seek other strategic allies. Lo and behold, China was ready and seized the opportunity. The discreet China-led negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Iran took over a year and occurred in various places. In the absence of a visionary and assertive U.S. leadership, Chinese President Xi Jinping presented himself as a strong alternative leader in Middle Eastern affairs. He visited Saudi Arabia in December, and welcomed Iran’s president to China in February.

Unlike the lukewarm welcome Biden received from the Saudis last year in July, Xi’s visit was significantly fruitful as he gathered with representatives of oil-rich Arab leaders to secure crucial energy supplies. Saudi Arabia accepted an ambiguous deal with Iran to give China a victory and keep the Iranian enemy close in sight.

There is more to cover on this deal, especially with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the mix, but one question and answer are clear: Who is the major winner of floundering and indecisive U.S. foreign policies? The Beast of the East, China.

A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim, born and raised in Egypt, holds two PhDs with an emphasis on Islam and its history. He is a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught at several schools in the United States and the Middle East, and authored A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad (Baker Academic, 2022), Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 2021), Basics of Arabic (Zondervan 2021), A Concise Guide to the Quran (Baker Academic, 2020), and The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion (Peter Lang, 2018), among others.

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