03/31/2023, 13.32
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Riyadh in the SCO: Xi courts the 'Global South' against the US and its allies

by Emanuele Scimia

Saudis enter as partners in the political-military forum led by Beijing and Moscow. Despite Chinese mediation, the regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran is set to remain. However, China brings an ally of Washington into its orbit. The Chinese have more difficulties in their own 'backyard'.

Rome (AsiaNews) - Saudi Arabia's entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is another diplomatic coup for Xi Jinping. On March 10 came the announcement that China had brokered the signing of an agreement between the Saudis and Iranians for the resumption of diplomatic relations after seven years of interruption.

The "Global South" is the area of the globe most affected by Chinese diplomatic action: an effort to counterbalance the moves of the US and its allies to contain Beijing's geopolitical rise.

With their decision on 29 March, the Saudis enter the SCO as dialogue partners, the first step towards full participation. Led by China and Russia, the politico-military consultation forum brings together former Soviet republics and countries such as India, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey with varying degrees of affiliation.

The presence of actors with not only "divergent" but "conflicting" interests actually undermines the effectiveness of the grouping. The arrival of Riyadh adds another element of uncertainty.

The common membership of the SCO has not been conducive to a detente between China and India, which have been warring along the disputed Himalayan border for almost three years. The same applies to the persistent tensions between Delhi and Islamabad over Kashmir.

The Chinese mediation between the Saudis and Iranians signals a growing diplomatic awareness on the part of Beijing, which is ready to take on responsibilities that could also lead to ugly figures. It is indisputable that China's weight in the Middle East is growing: getting concrete results in the region is, however, another matter.

The exchange of diplomats between Iran and Saudi Arabia, like their mutual membership in the SCO, will certainly not put an end to their regional rivalry: at best it will make it "more predictable".

Compared to the arrangement with the Saudis, Xi's real success is that he has succeeded in attracting what should be a solid US ally into the Chinese orbit. More adept in foreign policy than in domestic economic policy, the Chinese president continues to score points in the Global South to compensate for difficulties in his 'backyard'.

China is trying to pull the US sphere of influence away from the Western Pacific, but so far with little success. The South-East Asian countries do not want a conflict between Beijing and Washington, but neither do they want a Chinese hegemony, accepting the balancing role of the US.

Japan continues to arm itself in an anti-Chinese key. Tokyo also confirmed today that it will limit foreign sales of microchip production equipment, a move in line with US demands to curb China's technological advancement - and South Korea is moving in the same direction.

On 13 March, the US, Australia and Britain revealed the details of Aukus, the military pact signed in September 2021 to equip Canberra with nuclear-powered submarines.

Xi also fails in his old aim of "decoupling" Europe from Washington. Yesterday, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated that the evolution of relations between China and Putin will be the 'determining factor' for the future of Sino-European relations.

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