Iran-Saudi deal and China’s growing clout in Middle East
After China successfully brokered a deal last week to restore relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Beijing appears set to take on a larger role in the Middle East and potentially challenge US dominance in the oil-rich region.
Under the agreement reached in the Chinese capital on Friday, Riyadh and Tehran agreed to reopen their embassies and exchange ambassadors after seven years of severed diplomatic ties and tensions.
The rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, respectively the leading Shiite and Sunni Muslim powers in the Middle East, has dominated regional politics in recent years, affecting not only the two nations but also others with both sides backing rival camps in proxy wars from Yemen to Syria and elsewhere.
Beijing described the result as a “major outcome” achieved through “concerted efforts” by the three countries, emphasizing that China “pursues no selfish interest whatsoever in the Middle East.”
“China has no intention to and will not seek to fill the so-called vacuum or put up exclusive blocs,” Beijing said in a statement on Saturday, adding: “China will be a promoter of security and stability, partner for development and prosperity, and supporter of the Middle East’s development through solidarity.”
Tricky region for Chinese diplomacy
The deal is a major triumph for Chinese diplomacy, said Camille Lons, a research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
It also marks a shift in Beijing’s strategy as “until now, it had refused to get entangled in regional disputes, and smartly benefited from the US-led security umbrella while doing business with the entire region,” she noted.
“But by getting more involved in politics, China takes the risk of exposing its own limits.”
Ian Chong, an expert on China’s foreign policy at the National University of Singapore (NUS), shared a similar view.
He pointed out that Beijing may find the Middle East to be a tricky region to operate in.
“There are lots of complicated interests and tensions so how brokering this deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia will play out remains to be seen,” he told DW.
A long presence in the Middle East
China has cultivated strong economic and political ties with both Riyadh and Tehran in recent years. Saudi Arabia is China’s largest oil supplier, with trade between the two countries amounting to $87 billion (€81 billion) in 2021.
Commerce between Iran and China, meanwhile, was worth more than $16 billion in the same year, with Tehran depending on the Asian giant for as much as 30% of its foreign trade.
China has also pledged to invest $400 billion in Iran over 25 years.
Chinese President Xi Jinping traveled to Saudi Arabia in December for a state visit, and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi visited Beijing in February.
Chong from NUS said that by facilitating this deal, Beijing is signaling that it is now not just a leading economic player but is also willing to get involved in politics in the Middle East, a region which is the primary source of China’s energy imports.
Tuvia Gering, an expert on China-Middle East relations at the Diane and Guilford Glazer Center at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel (INSS), said Beijing hopes to carve out a bigger role for itself because the region has become “strategically important” to it.
“It’s not just for energy security, but on this wider gamut of areas,” Gering told DW, pointing to Chinese investments in regional infrastructure as part of its massive multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.
The Saudi-Iran deal comes at a time when many countries in the region perceive the US as winding down its engagement there.
This doesn’t mean Beijing could replace Washington in the Middle East, said Gering.
“China said it doesn’t want to be dragged into regional conflicts, and I don’t think that wish has changed even though recent developments may have given Beijing a bit more appetite to become more active,” he underlined, adding that China still needs to gain the region’s trust before it can become a reliable partner. “China is still a new actor and these things take a long time.”
Is US influence waning?
The US, meanwhile, welcomed China’s efforts to help end the war in Yemen and deescalate tensions in the Middle East, but rejected the notion that it was stepping back from the region.
It also stressed that the agreement was two years in the making.
“This is not about China. We support any effort to deescalate tensions in the region. We think that’s in our interests, and it’s something that we worked on through our own effective combination of deterrence and diplomacy,” said White House national security spokesperson John Kirby.
John Calabrese, director of the Middle East-Asia Project at the Middle East Institute, said Beijing’s role in brokering the deal doesn’t fundamentally alter Washington’s position.
In his view, Beijing’s main goal in the region is still “maintaining its economic interests and expanding its economic equities.”
“This requires regional stability to the extent that the US is still equipped to do so,” he said, adding that de-escalation between Tehran and Riyadh is in the interest of the Middle East, China and the US.
And despite US-Saudi tensions over an array of issues — ranging from human rights violations to Riyadh’s continued participation in a pandemic-era oil pact with Russia — Saudi Arabia remains one of Washington’s staunchest security partners in the region.
Lons from IISS said the agreement shows that Gulf states like Saudi Arabia are willing to diversify their security and strategic partnerships so that they do not rely entirely on the US.
She described these countries’ approach as “pragmatic” and warned against overestimating Beijing’s importance to the region.
“When it comes to hard security guarantees, they are fully aware that the US remains their key partner.”
Edited by: Srinivas Mazumdaru
Politics Briefing: Political combat over the Liberal government's spending plan has already begun – The Globe and Mail
Even before the federal budget was tabled Tuesday, the political combat over the Liberal government’s spending plan began.
“Unless Justin Trudeau cancels his tax hikes and inflationary deficit spending that have driven up the cost of living to 40-year highs, we will vote against this budget,” Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre told a news conference on Parliament Hill.
The leader of the Official Opposition made his commitment in the morning ahead of the 4 p.m. ET tabling of the budget.
Asked about the prospect of incentives for green infrastructure and green investments in response to the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States, Mr. Poilievre said there’s a need to bring down the cost of low and no-carbon energy.
“That starts with getting the government out of the way and off the backs of our workers and industry,” he said, adding that it takes too long to get mines approved and built.
Mr. Poilievre’s media appearance was announced after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a few comments on the budget as he headed into the week’s cabinet meeting.
He said he looked forward to bring down the budget, with measures to address the cost of living and support Canadians who are having a tough time paying bills.
“We’re also delivering on the results on health care as we move forward with the historic deals with the provinces. And finally, we’re going to be focusing on great jobs for the middle class in a growing and green economy,” he said.
Deputy Ottawa bureau chief Bill Curry reports here that Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s 2023 budget will announce plans to save about $7-billion over five years through cuts to federal travel and reduced outsourcing, with a particular focus on using fewer management consultants. Story here.
Also, Mr. Curry, Senior Political Reporter Marieke Walsh, and Mining Reporter Niall McGee report here that the federal budget will announce a clean-tech manufacturing tax credit aimed at encouraging the mining of critical minerals in Canada, a credit that will be worth more than $3-billion over five years.
Please check The Globe and Mail at 4 p.m. ET as details of the budget are released.
This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.
FORD WARNS AGAINST MAYORAL CANDIDATES WHO WANT TO DEFUND POLICE – Ontario Premier Doug Ford says voters in Toronto’s upcoming mayoral by-election should not support anyone who wants to defund the police. Story here.
MPS TO VISIT TAIWAN – A delegation of MPs will visit Taiwan in April to meet with lawmakers on the self-ruled island claimed by China, a gesture of solidarity with a territory under threat from Beijing as Canada itself grapples with foreign interference from the Chinese government. Story here.
NOMINATION TURMOIL LEADS TO EXIT OF CONSERVATIVE EXECUTIVES – Two Conservative executives in a southwestern Ontario riding have resigned after they say local Tories were poorly treated by the party headquarters in a high-profile nomination race where one candidate was endorsed by former and current leaders Andrew Scheer and Pierre Poilievre. Story here.
QUEBEC POLICE OFFICER KILLED – A Quebec provincial police officer has been killed while trying to arrest a man at a home in the province’s Mauricie region Monday night. Story here.
ISRAELI DIPLOMATS RETURN TO WORK – Israeli diplomats in Canada are set to return to work on Tuesday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu caved to public pressure and announced a delay in his contentious plan to overhaul the country’s judiciary. Story here.
CANADA IN MARKET FOR MILITARY SURVEILLANCE AIRCRAFT – Canada is looking at buying a fleet of military surveillance aircraft from U.S. aerospace giant Boeing without a competition. Story here.
INFRASTRUCTURE BANK MAKES LOAN FOR QUEBEC BIOREFINERY PROJECT – Canada Infrastructure Bank is lending $277-million to developers of a Quebec biorefinery, which is being built to convert non-recyclable waste and cast-off wood into low-carbon fuels. Story here.
EBY PROPOSES PLAN TO DEAL WITH HOMELESSNESS, POVERTY – British Columbia’s NDP government – whose Premier David Eby has said the province will take over Vancouver’s troubled Downtown Eastside – has come up with a preliminary plan for tackling mounting problems with homelessness, poverty, mental health and addiction. Story here.
THIS AND THAT
TODAY IN THE COMMONS – Projected Order of Business at the House of Commons, March 28, accessible here.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER’S DAY – Chrystia Freeland, also the Finance Minister, held private meetings, attended the weekly cabinet meeting, and held an embargoed news conference as part of the release of the federal budget. Ms. Freeland joined Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a budget photo opportunity on Parliament Hill before presenting the budget in the House of Commons.
NEW DIPLOMATS WELCOMED – Diplomats from six countries have presented their credentials to the Governor-General during a Tuesday ceremony at Rideau Hall. They are from Oman, the Marshall Islands, Zimbabwe, the Philippines, Colombia and Mexico. Details here.
PRIME MINISTER’S DAY
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in Ottawa, attended private meetings and chaired the weekly cabinet meeting. Later in the afternoon, he was scheduled, with Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to participate in a photo opportunity at West Block in Parliament Hill, before attending the budget speech in the House of Commons.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, in Ottawa, scheduled to hold a late-afternoon news conference on the federal budget in the foyer of the House of Commons.
Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre, in Ottawa, held a morning news conference on Parliament Hill ahead of the release of the federal budget and was scheduled to hold a news conference on the budget after it was released.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and Deputy Leader Jonathan Pedneault, on Parliament Hill, react to the federal budget.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh held private meetings, and was scheduled to speak to the media on Parliament Hill about the federal budget.
On Tuesday’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast, reporter Josh O’Kane discusses concerns around Ticketmaster, which controls a huge proportion of the concert-ticket market. Ticket prices have risen dramatically – with some costing thousands of dollars. Ticketmaster, which controls a huge proportion of the market, has come under fire recently for some of its practices, like dynamic pricing and murky service fees. Mr. O’Kane has covered Ticketmaster for years. The Decibel is here.
POILIEVRE PREFERRED PM – Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is, according to Nanos Research, the preferred choice for Prime Minister at 28.7 per cent of respondents surveyed compared to 25.9 per cent for current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Details here.
The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on the dangers for Canada in U.S. President Joe Biden’s new deal: “U.S. President Joe Biden made a telling gaffe during his speech to Parliament last week. It came when he wanted to thank Canada for doing its part to help with the migration crisis in the western hemisphere. “So, today I applaud China for stepping up – or, excuse me, I applaud Canada – you can tell what I’m thinking…,” Mr. Biden said. Paging Dr. Freud. Mr. Biden’s speech contained all the usual talking points about the relationship between his country and this one: the world’s longest undefended border; the $1.3-trillion economic link; the shared belief in freedom and democracy; the United States having a “no more reliable ally, no more steady friend,” even if that “doesn’t mean we never disagree. But in his words, both intended and otherwise, it was apparent that while the President was addressing legislators in Ottawa, his thoughts were on the Communist Party in Beijing, and on the threat posed by China’s economic power.”
Marsha Lederman (The Globe and Mail) on how, as a Jewish Canadian, her relationship with Israel is complicated: “If you are a Jewish Canadian who is concerned about social justice, believes in the State of Israel and understands that its existence before the Second World War could have dramatically changed the history of our people, this is a difficult moment. It’s painful to watch the current government, spurred on by its extremist coalition partners, advance its agenda, which includes harmful policies on the treatment of Palestinians and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s alarming judicial overhaul. But it is also an excellent moment to speak up. Something some of us have been wary to do, as the writer Andrew Cohen pointed out recently.”
Lloyd Axworthy and Allan Rock (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on a better fix for Roxham Road: “Ottawa pundits say that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau scored a political win by securing President Joe Biden’s agreement to renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA). Henceforth, it will apply across the entire Canada-U.S. border, and asylum seekers can be turned away at any crossing point. Ottawa has thereby responded adroitly to Quebec Premier François Legault’s complaints about the flow of migrants entering Quebec at the infamous Roxham Road border crossing. But there is something that neither the Prime Minister nor the President mentioned in their announcement: the impact of their decision on the men, women and children fleeing violence and persecution who had hoped to cross the Canadian border after feeling anything but safe in the United States. The vast majority are not in any way a threat to our security.”
John Manley (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on how Canada’s empathy for refugees isn’t limitless, so securing our border is key: “Canadians have proven themselves to be open to immigration, demonstrating a willingness to pitch in to assist refugees, be they from African countries, Ukraine, Syria, Vietnam, or any other of the many venues of war, famine and persecution. But Canadian goodwill is not bottomless and could be put at risk if some newcomers are perceived to be queue-jumpers, attempting to gain unfair advantage.”
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US President Biden, Israel PM Netanyahu trade words over protests
Biden tells Israel to ‘walk away’ from judicial reforms, Netanyahu responds saying Israel rejected ‘pressure from abroad’.
United States President Joe Biden has told Israel it “cannot continue” pushing ahead with deeply controversial judicial reforms — now on hold — that have prompted months of unrest — comments that led Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to say he does not make decisions based on pressure from abroad.
Biden’s comments on Tuesday came as Netanyahu was being accused by opponents of riding roughshod over Israeli democracy in an attempt to strengthen his own power, leading to paralysing protests and strikes across Israel.
“Like many strong supporters of Israel I’m very concerned. … They cannot continue down this road, and I’ve sort of made that clear,” Biden told reporters during a visit to the state of North Carolina.
“Hopefully the prime minister [Netanyahu] will act in a way that he will try to work out some genuine compromise, but that remains to be seen,” Biden said, adding he was not considering inviting the Israeli leader to the White House, at least “not in the near term”.
Speaking later in Washington, DC, Biden called on Netanyahu’s administration to drop the controversial judiciary law.
“I hope they walk away from it,” he told reporters.
Netanyahu quickly issued a statement in response to Biden, the Reuters news agency reported.
“Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends,” he said.
Netanyahu said his administration was striving to make reforms “via broad consensus”.
“I have known President Biden for over 40 years, and I appreciate his longstanding commitment to Israel,” Netanyahu said.
He said the Israel-US alliance is unbreakable “and always overcomes the occasional disagreements between us”.
On Monday, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog called on Netanyahu and the ruling coalition to halt its judicial changes plan, “for the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of responsibility”.
The appeal on Monday by the head of state, who normally does not get involved in politics, underlines the alarm that the proposals have caused and comes after a dramatic night of protests across Israel on Sunday following the sacking of the country’s defence minister.
Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in cities across Israel in a spontaneous outburst of anger after Netanyahu fired his defence minister for challenging his judicial overhaul plan.
Fired Defence Minister Yoav Gallant had been the first senior member of the ruling Likud party to speak out against the reforms, saying the deep divisions were threatening to weaken Israel’s military.
Budget Politics: Why the federal budget matters so much to Liberal electorate fortunes.
On Tuesday, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland will table the federal government’s budget, and the stakes could not be higher for the government.
Public assessments of the government’s performance and how they feel about the Prime Minister haven’t been much lower than they are today. Despite this, the Liberals and Conservatives are statistically tied in our latest measure of vote intention.
In our most recent national omnibus survey conducted from March 17 to 21, I asked 1,963 adults a few questions to gauge their economic outlook and how they feel about the government’s performance on a series of economic, fiscal, and pocketbook issues. The results suggest a very challenging opinion environment – one that I think the government and the Prime Minister desperately need to shift.
Here’s what I’m seeing:
The overall economic outlook isn’t that bad right now, but it’s not great either. When we ask Canadians to estimate whether the economy will improve, get worse, or stay about the same over the next 12 months, almost half think it is going to get worse but only 15% say it will get a lot worse. About 1 in 4 are optimistic things will improve over that time period.
Government Strengths and Weaknesses?
When we ask Canadians to evaluate the performance of the federal government and the Prime Minister in several areas, the government gets fairly good grades for its handling of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for representing the country internationally, and for working with the provinces. In each of those, half or more feel the government’s performance is at least acceptable.
It gets what I feel are middling grades for running an ethical government, managing the economy, and responding to the crisis in healthcare. On these, about 4 in 10 feel the government is doing at least an acceptable job.
But on two items in particular, the government is seen as severely underperforming – addressing the rising cost of living and making housing more affordable and accessible. On both, about 1 in 4 think the government is doing ok or better while two-thirds think it’s doing a poor or terrible job.
Even among 2021 Liberal voters, the cost of living and housing are challenging issues for the government. 4 in 10 past Liberal voters say the government isn’t doing even acceptably on those issues.
Part of the problem facing the government right now is its lack of narrative – especially an economic one. Case in point, when we ask Canadians whether they agree or disagree that “the federal government has a clear economic plan to grow the economy” only 23% agree, including 4% who strongly agree. In contrast, 42% disagree, 22% neither agree nor disagree and 13% are unsure.
I wish I had comparable data from previous years or previous governments, but these numbers feel low. If I was advising the Finance Minister, having only 1 in 4 people inclined to think you have a clear plan to grow the economy is a problem, and a serious liability, especially when people are feeling anxious and uncertain about the economy right now.
But the crosstabs provide even more concern. For example, those in vote-rich Ontario and Quebec are no more likely to think the government has a clear plan than those in other regions. And only 51% of Liberal supporters, those who say they would vote Liberal today, think the government has a clear economic plan.
But it gets worse for the Liberals…
When we ask all Canadians which party they feel will do best on several issues, the Liberals only have a slight advantage on one – dealing with climate change and the environment. Even when it comes to “making childcare affordable” – an issue that dominated the 2021 federal budget – the Liberals are basically tied with the NDP and only 7-points ahead of the Conservatives.
On EVERY economic and pocketbook issue, the Conservatives have a clear advantage over the Liberals. And a reminder, this is the same poll that found the Liberals only 2 points behind the Conservatives in voting intention.
The Conservatives are ahead of the Liberals by:
- 13 on managing the economy.
- 19 on keeping taxes low
- 15 on keeping interest rates as low as possible
- 11 on addressing the rising cost of living
- 7 on creating good-paying jobs
- 6 on protecting pensions and retirement security
These results underscore both the weakness of the Liberal government’s brand on economic issues and the opportunity it has in this budget to start to move these numbers.
One budget alone won’t fix the problem, but if the government uses it as an opportunity to start talking about pocketbook issues and the economy more, they may be able to reverse some of these numbers.
I think the problem is one of empathy and clarity. The federal government and its senior leaders aren’t connecting with people and empathizing with their day-to-day struggles. And there hasn’t been a clear economic narrative that people recall. With only 23% of Canadians believing the government has a clear economic plan, the budget presents an opportunity for the Liberal government to articulate its vision for economic growth and stability. Demonstrating a coherent strategy to address Canadians’ economic anxieties could help regain public trust.
Yes, the Conservatives have a natural advantage on economic issues. But it hasn’t always been that way. Tomorrow’s budget will either demonstrate a shift in strategy and approach, or it will reinforce what people already think.
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The survey was conducted with 1,963 Canadian adults from March 17 to 21, 2023. A random sample of panelists were invited to complete the survey from a set of partner panels based on the Lucid exchange platform. These partners are typically double opt-in survey panels, blended to manage out potential skews in the data from a single source.
The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 2.3%, 19 times out of 20.
The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding.
This survey was paid for by Abacus Data Inc.
Abacus Data follows the CRIC Public Opinion Research Standards and Disclosure Requirements that can be found here: https://canadianresearchinsightscouncil.ca/standards/
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