China will continue to adopt a balanced approach to its engagement with the Middle East, according to Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Ming Monday.
The announcement comes days before a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Iran and Saudi Arabia, a visit that is thought to signal a change in the Chinese government’s policy in the region.
Diplomatic tension between the region’s two competing powers was ignited anew when Saudi Arabia executed prominent Shi’a cleric Nimr Al-Nimr. This was followed by attacks on Saudi diplomatic buildings in Iran by angry protestors.
Saudi Arabia responded to the attacks on its diplomatic mission by severing all diplomatic ties with Iran.
Zhang confirmed that China is a disinterested party in the conflict. “Regarding some of the region’s problems, China has always taken a balanced and just position,” he said.
“The world won’t be calm unless the Middle East is stable. No country can achieve development without being stable,” Zhang continued.
China depends on the Middle East to provide oil to its growing economy; however, it has never interfered with Middle Eastern politics, allowing other permanent UN Security Council members to address issues that have arisen.
The Chinese vice foreign minister confirmed that his country will cooperate with Iran in energy production, after sanctions were lifted from the country last year.
The official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, reported that China plans for Iran to be a part of the New Silk Road initiative to develop trade routes across Asia.
“After the sanctions lift, Iran’s economy can develop faster, but it needs the technological support to update its infrastructure,” the report read.
Iran experienced its first day without sanctions Sunday, after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed Iran’s commitment to its deal with the West.
Last week, Zhang Ming visited both Riyadh and Tehran and urged both countries to ease the hostilities. Zhang addressed possible methods to resolve the current tensions and repeated his message in Tehran, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
In the past month, China hosted members from both the Syrian regime and the opposition to urge both sides to find a solution to the Syrian civil war.
China is considered to be a safeguarding force of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. It voted against UN resolutions aimed at addressing the Syrian crisis four times.
China published its first official Arab policy paper, claiming to “support Arab countries” struggling to uphold sovereignty and territorial integrity, pursue and safeguard national interests, and combat external interference and aggression. Within this framework, it emphasised its support for the Arab league in its effort to establish an independent Palestinian state.
The Chinese president will also visit Egypt during his trip to the Middle East.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi highlighted the importance of the Chinese president’s visit to Cairo. In a meeting with Prime Minister Sherif Ismail and the ministers of trade, transportation and housing, President Al-Sisi discussed the projects to be established in cooperation with China.
Conversation also addressed the manner in which Egypt can participate in China’s New Silk Road initiative.
Emanuele Scimia, a foreign affairs analyst at the South China Morning Post believes that China is trying to moderately change its non-interference policy in the Middle East and North Africa and shift to a more assertive engagement in the region.
According to Scimia, soft-power diplomacy alone will not be enough for China to realise its aims.
“The problem for Beijing is that diplomacy can hinge on trade and investment, but it must also be supported by military presence: something that China lacks at the moment,” Scimia told the Daily News Egypt.