Beijing calls for restraint in Iran-Saudi Arabia row

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 January, 2016, 10:50pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 January, 2016, 10:50pm

Beijing said on Tuesday it was concerned about the diplomatic row between Iran and Saudi Arabia and called on the two countries to exercise restraint.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said the situation in the Middle East was “complex and uncertain”, and that the relevant countries should resolve their differences through dialogue and promote regional stability.

“We have noticed that many countries of the international community have expressed similar concerns and positions,” Hua said.

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Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic relations with Iran on Sunday in response to the storming of its embassy in Tehran in an escalating row over Riyadh’s execution of Shiite Muslim cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, an outspoken opponent of the ruling Al Saudi family.

He was put to death along with 46 others said to be involved in al-Qaeda attacks that killed dozens in 2003 and 2004.

Three Sunni-led countries – Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates – also severed or downgraded ties with Iran.

The diplomatic spat comes as Beijing is stepping up engagement with countries in the Middle East.

Khaled Khoja, President of the Istanbul-based National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, was in the Chinese capital yesterday, the first day of a trip that continues until Friday.

The escalating tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran presented Beijing with a challenge, said Liu Zhongmin, a professor specialising in Middle East issues at Shanghai International Studies University.

“China doesn’t pick sides in the Middle East,” Liu said.

“It has no allies, nor does it have enemies. It has maintained friendly relations with both sides of conflicts – even when Iran and Iraq were at war.

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“Beijing will continue the strategy to balance such relations with countries who are at diplomatic odds.”

Liu said the tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia were unlikely to escalate into military conflict. Such tensions had run for decades in the Middle East because the two countries supported opposing religious groupings.

China relies heavily on the Middle East for oil, importing around 16 per cent of its supplies from Saudi Arabia and about 9 per cent from Iran in 2014.

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Lin Boqiang, an energy policy expert at Xiamen University, said the tensions could lead to short-term fluctuations in oil prices but were unlikely to affect China’s imports. There was even an opportunity for Beijing to bargain with the two countries on prices as Iran and Saudi Arabia sought support from China.

Yunnan University professor Xiao Xian said that unless a military conflict erupted, the tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia would not affect China’s imports of oil.