China’s Partnership With Saudi Arabia Should be a Wake-up Call to Iran to Stop Scapegoating Pakistan

China and Saudi Arabia’s partnership 

Chinese President Xi Jinping just held a phone call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman which has been positively publicised throughout China. CGTN describes the conversation in the following way:

“Chinese President Xi Jinping said China highly values the comprehensive strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, and views the latter as a significant partner in the pursuit of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

He made the remarks during a phone call with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on Wednesday. 

During the conversation over the phone, the Chinese president spoke highly of the visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud in February, saying it injected new impetus into the exchange between the two countries on all fronts.

Xi said China is willing to reinforce the strategic alignment between the BRI and the Saudi Vision 2030 – a plan to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil and diversify its economy”.

The contents of the conversation and the positive way in which it has been reported by China and by Chinese international media outlets should not surprise anyone who has followed the rapid acceleration in positive ties between Beijing and Riyadh.

China welcomes a diverse group of partnerships which add to and strengthen the global Belt and Road initiative (BRI). As a wealthy, strategically located and oil rich state, Saudi Arabia is objectively an important partner for China. The fact that Saudi Arabia has so enthusiastically invested in the building of a modern oil refinery in the BRI port in Pakistan’s Gwadar is a further example of Saudi Arabia’s growing integration into BRI both in terms of direct partnerships with China and via a mutual Pakistani partner.

China has already been busy modernising Saudi Arabia’s rail systems and this is just the beginning of a strong relationship in infrastructural cooperation that is set to accelerate as Riyadh seeks to meet its targets for economic diversification ahead of the launch of the first phases of the Vision 2030 economic diversification initiative.

Finally as China is a major customer of oil and as Saudi Arabia will become ever more reliant on Chinese expertise to diversify its economy, it becomes clear why both sides have pledged to deeper their comprehensive strategic partnership.

Iran and Pakistan

As a superpower that basis its foreign relations on a policy of anti-meddling and total non-interference in the affairs of others, it is easy enough to understand that China can be and in fact is a partner of Iran and Saudi Arabia simultaneously. It is therefore highly unfortunate that China’s all-weather partner Pakistan remains singled out for rhetorical abuse and even defamation by top officials in Iran and certain elements of Iran’s media.

While Turkey is a major rival of Saudi Arabia in the era of Erdoğan and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman respectively, Ankara has taken a mature approach to the fact that Pakistan’s positive relations with the Saudis date back as far as positive relations with the Turks. As such, Turkey is not trying to force Pakistan to “choose a side” because Turkey respects that Pakistan is a major power whose sovereign partnerships are its own matter.

Furthermore, anyone in the world who bases one’s opinions on rational thinking rather than fantasy would realise that as Pakistan’s last government left the country with a major current account deficit, it would be economic suicide to allow ties between the ultra-cash rich Kingdom and Pakistan to deteriorate.

If China, the world’s second largest economy requires good relations with Saudi Arabia for some of the same reasons Pakistan does, it is patently absurd for Iran to criticise Pakistan for maintaining good relations with a country whose partnership with Pakistan was formed over thirty years before Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

Thus, when Iranian IRGC officers defame the Pakistani people by suggesting that the country’s highly professional Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was somehow behind a 13 February terror attack on the neighbouring Iranian province of  Sistan and Baluchestan Province, it demonstrated not just a great diplomatic offence but was symptomatic of a lack of maturity in Iran’s discourse regarding Pakistan.

To be fair, during Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent and positive visit to Iran, Mohammad Ali Jafari, the military officer who made the grossly defamatory remarks about Pakistan was relieved of his leadership position in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, thus demonstrating that Iran sought to offer a diplomatic olive branch to Pakistan.

More importantly, during Imran Khan’s visit, both sides signed an agreement to jointly patrol their border against marauding terrorists who pose an equal danger to peace and security in both neighbouring states.

Image problems 

But while Imran Khan’s Iran visit was productive and generally positive, problems persist. The unfortunate reality is that while Pakistan and Iran remain suspicious of one another, both countries have serious image problems in the wider world.

Pakistan has been demonised through black propaganda emanating from India for even longer than Iran has been demonised through black propaganda emanating from Israel. The result is that the wider world and the west in particular both associates Iran and Pakistan with terrorism and the most conservative strata of Islam even though both of these things are categorically untrue.

As such, it would behove Pakistan and Iran to cooperate in terms of combating foreign propaganda that has poisoned almost all of the western world against both Pakistan and Iran. And yet instead of doing so, some in Iran continue to accuse Pakistan of being little more than a poorer but nuclear armed Saudi Arabia. At the same time, some in Pakistan have allowed the misunderstandings and now irrelevant disagreements of the past to convince themselves that Iran is sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan when the only sources of foreign terrorism in Pakistan remain India and the Kabul regime in Afghanistan.

To put it in the simplest terms, Iran needs to get over the fact that Pakistan is and will remain a partner of Saudi Arabia, just as secular China is. At the same time, Pakistan should not allow Islamic Iran to become a distraction from who its real regional enemies are and always have been in the most objective sense. Likewise, at a time when both India and Israel are amplifying their respective propaganda campaigns against Pakistan and Iran, there is all the more reason for two Islamic neighbours to use soft power to push back against these black propaganda narratives that have poisoned several generations of westerners against two Islamic countries that do not seek to harm anyone in Europe or America.

Conclusion 

Pakistan has become an easy boogie men for the less mature elements of Iranian politics and media simply because Islamabad’s partnership with Saudi Arabia has allowed Iran’s to fantasise about some imaginary “Wahhabi alliance” in spite of the fact that Pakistan is not and never has been a “Wahhabi state”. At the same time, China continues to speak out against Washington’s attempts to brutally isolate Iran from global commerce, China is likewise increasing its ties with Saudi Arabia. This therefore proves that there is no zero-sum game at hand when it comes to how third parties view the Saudi-Iranian “cold war”.

Therefore, if Iran holds Pakistan to a “higher standard” than it does in respect of the Chinese superpower, one can clearly see that not only have India and Israel managed to poison the western world against both Pakistan and Iran, but sadly, Pakistan and Iran will have been poisoned against each other in spite of the fact that win-win neighbourly relations remain both possible and preferable to the status quo.

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