The recent rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, facilitated by China, is garnering significant attention. On March 10, the three countries announced the resumption of diplomatic relations between the Middle Eastern powers, with embassies set to reopen in Tehran and Riyadh in the coming months.
The deal is not without its positive aspects. Iran and Saudi Arabia’s willingness to engage in dialogue could defuse tensions in their proxy war in Yemen and ease power-politics in Syria. However, the fact that China is stepping in as a Middle East power-broker raises eyebrows. China’s ambitions to increase its influence in the region challenge the United States, which has been the primary power broker since the end of the Cold War.
While the peace deal offers a valuable photo opportunity for all parties involved, it’s important to consider the backdrop against which it is taking place. All three nations – Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China – have concerning human rights records, particularly with regard to women and minorities. China, in particular, continues to imprison large portions of its Muslim population in concentration camps while simultaneously playing peacemaker between two major Islamic nations.
China’s treatment of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang province has been widely condemned. Over a million Uyghurs have been forcibly detained in what the state calls “re-education camps,” with hundreds of thousands sentenced to prison terms. The situation has prompted many countries, including the U.S., to accuse China of genocide against the Uyghurs.
Despite this ongoing crisis, Iran and Saudi Arabia have remained silent on the issue. Both countries have previously supported the Rohingya Muslim population in Burma, who also face genocide. Saudi Arabia provided aid to Rohingya women and children, while Iran offered support to Bangladesh to repatriate the persecuted minority. However, neither country seems willing to confront China regarding the Uyghurs.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield recently highlighted the plight of the Uyghurs at a special event on Islamophobia at the United Nations. She called for the international community to condemn China’s actions, demand accountability, and advocate for the release of those unjustly detained.
The Iran-Saudi Arabia peace deal, brokered by China, is a complex development in global politics. While the easing of tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia is a positive step, it is crucial not to overlook the serious human rights concerns that persist in all three countries, especially China’s treatment of the Uyghur population. If Iran and Saudi Arabia are to truly act as champions of peace, they must join the U.S. in condemning China’s actions and demanding justice for the Uyghurs.