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Xi's NPC Speech - New State Council Line-up - Iran-Saudi Deal Analysis
Before we get to today’s edition of the paper, here’s what Saturday’s paper looked like after Xi Jinping’s re-election.
The other big story over the weekend, of course, was the deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to re-establish bilateral ties. The joint statement issued after the talks said:
“The delegations from the two countries held talks on 6-10 March 2023 in Beijing - the delegation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia headed by His Excellency Dr. Musaad bin Mohammed Al-Aiban, Minister of State, Member of the Council of Ministers, and National Security Advisor, and the delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran headed by His Excellency Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
“The two sides also expressed their appreciation and gratitude to the leadership and government of the People's Republic of China for hosting and sponsoring the talks, and the efforts they placed towards its success.”
“The three countries announce that an agreement has been reached between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran, that includes an agreement to resume diplomatic relations between them and re-open their embassies and missions within a period not exceeding two months, and the agreement includes their affirmation of the respect for the sovereignty of states and the non-interference in internal affairs of states. They also agreed that the ministers of foreign affairs of both countries shall meet to implement this, arrange for the return of their ambassadors, and discuss means of enhancing bilateral relations. They also agreed to implement the Security Cooperation Agreement between them, which was signed on 22/1/1422 (H), corresponding to 17/4/2001, and the General Agreement for Cooperation in the Fields of Economy, Trade, Investment, Technology, Science, Culture, Sports, and Youth, which was signed on 2/2/1419 (H), corresponding to 27/5/1998. The three countries expressed their keenness to exert all efforts towards enhancing regional and international peace and security.”
In his remarks, Wang Yi said that the two sides had “reached common understandings on resolving their respective concerns and identified roadmaps and timetables, thus laying a solid foundation for follow-up actions of both sides.” He added: “China supports countries in the Middle East in upholding strategic autonomy, strengthening solidarity and cooperation, getting rid of external interference, and really holding the future of the Middle East in their own hands.” Speaking to Chinese media, he also said that Ukraine was not the only crisis in the world, and added that the deal showed that the Middle East belonged to the people of the Middle East.
Stressing that China pursues no selfish interest whatsoever in the Middle East, the spokesperson said China respects the stature of Middle East countries as the masters of this region and oppose geopolitical competition in the Middle East. ‘China has no intention to and will not seek to fill so-called vacuum or put up exclusive blocs,’ said the spokesperson, adding China always believes that the future of the Middle East should always be in the hands of the countries in the region. ‘China always supports the people in the Middle East in independently exploring their development paths and supports Middle East countries in resolving differences through dialogue and consultation to jointly promote lasting peace and stability in the region,’ said the spokesperson, 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.”
There has been a lot, and I mean a lot, of talk about this representing a major shift in the politics of the Middle East, a major boost to China’s profile and stake in the region, and a diminishing of America’s role in the Middle East. There has also been some gloating by Chinese commentators. For instance, this by Hu Xijin.
Brief Take: My two bits is that from an Indian interests perspective, I don’t see a downside in Saudi and Iran talking to each other and normalising ties. India has good relations with both sides and if this were to bring some degree of stability in the region, then it’s good. Of course, it remains to be seen how things play out and what is the impact of this on Israel.
As far as China being the broker, it’s worth waiting and watching what the implementation is like, whether this sustains, and what Beijing is willing to put on stake amid disruptions. Speaking to Bonnie Glaser about the Global Security Initiative on the China Global podcast last year and in my paper on GSI, I had broadly argued that GSI demonstrates greater Chinese willingness to get engaged in addressing hotspot issues around the world. Beijing argues that the world is suffering from four deficits, i.e., governance, trust, development, and peace. This makes the world a dangerous place and it creates opportunities for Chinese intervention. It is important for Beijing to play a role in addressing these deficits because as much as it craves self-reliance, there is an appreciation that China's prosperity is linked to the outside world. Isolation is not an option, and China's developmental and security interests are interlinked, requiring greater external engagement. I think this agreement fits within that framework rather well.
That said, I was sceptical, and remain sceptical, of Beijing underwriting peace deals. That will require significant security commitments. I doubt that China has the firepower and the political will to do so. The repeated references to the Middle East belonging to the people of the region, and that China does not seek to fill the “so-called vacuum” are in part underscoring this.
But let me point to some useful analysis from people who follow this region:
First, please do go through Tuvia Gering’s excellent substack Discourse Power, which features a bunch of Chinese analysts’ take on the deal.
Robert Mogielnicki, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf State Institute in Washington, DC, told Al Jazeera the brokered deal is evidence of a growing Chinese presence and its increased interest in playing a role in the region. As the United States does not have good relations with Iran, China is “in a good position to broker an agreement”, he said. “It’s a relatively low-risk and high-reward activity for China to engage in because the Chinese are not committed to any particular outcome,” Mogielnicki said. “Better diplomatic linkages between Saudi Arabia and Iran will reduce the likelihood for regional conflict and will reduce regional tensions. That’s a good thing for China, for the US and for regional actors as well.”
Yun Sun to NYT: She “said it was important not to overstate the significance of Friday’s deal. Saudi-Iranian differences run deep along sectarian lines, and it will take more than renewed diplomatic relations to mend ties. China’s role in brokering the agreement also may not be as pivotal as it seems, given indications that Tehran and Riyadh were already motivated to strike an accord. ‘Saudi Arabia and Iran have been talking about rehabilitating their relations for quite some time. So this is not something Beijing facilitated overnight,’ she said. What most likely happened, Ms. Sun said, was a convergence of interests, in which an embattled and isolated Iran gained relief; Saudi Arabia got to send a message to Washington about the costs of reducing engagement in the region; and Mr. Xi was able to claim prestige as a global leader in the face of mounting American pressure. ‘This is not China bringing two countries together and solving their differences,’ Ms. Sun said. ‘This is China exploiting the opportunity of two countries who want to improve their relations to begin with.’
In the WSJ: “China doesn’t have the capacity to play a bigger security role in the region,” said Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, a London think tank. But the deal to restore diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia “foreshadows its potential to be an appealing alternative to Washington.” Also: “Riyadh’s goal is to clear away as much as possible the threat from Iran, so its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, can focus on a plan to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil by attracting foreign investment and boosting domestic consumption. “There is so much happening that they need a clear frontier, and they’ll go to whoever gives them that—the Americans, the Chinese, or a mix of both,” said Bader al-Saif, an expert on Persian Gulf and Arabian affairs at Kuwait University.”
The Atlantic Council got its experts to offer brief reactions to the deal. Very diverse set of views here.
Also, I recommend reading through this WSJ story, which discusses the backstory and interests of each side. It also says that Beijing is planning a broader summit between Iran and the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council later this year.
“This is a brilliant stroke by China and Iran to undercut Saudi-American and Saudi-Israeli normalisation. It helps bring Tehran in from the cold and undermines American and Israeli efforts to build a regional coalition to confront Iran as it is on the cusp of developing nuclear weapons,” said Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies in Washington, in this Reuters article.
Okay, now let’s turn to today’s paper. There’s not a whole lot to cover other than the outcomes of the Two Sessions.
Page 1: The lead story on the page is about the new State Council line-up. The details of the new members are as follows. If you’d like to get the vote details and other key Two Sessions-related documents, once again the NPC Observer site has all of this handy.
Premier: Li Qiang
Vice premiers: Ding Xuexiang, He Lifeng, Zhang Guoqing, Liu Guozhong
State councilors: Li Shangfu, Wang Xiaohong, Wu Zhenglong, Shen Yiqin, Qin Gang
Secretary-General of the State Council: Wu Zhenglong
Foreign Affairs Minister: Qin Gang
Minister of National Defense: Li Shangfu
Zheng Shanjie, head of the National Development and Reform Commission
Huai Jinpeng, minister of education
Wang Zhigang, minister of science and technology
Jin Zhuanglong, minister of industry and information technology
Pan Yue, head of the National Ethnic Affairs Commission
Wang Xiaohong, minister of public security
Chen Yixin, minister of state security
Tang Dengjie, minister of civil affairs
He Rong, minister of justice
Liu Kun, minister of finance
Wang Xiaoping, minister of human resources and social security
Wang Guanghua, minister of natural resources
Huang Runqiu, minister of ecology and environment
Ni Hong, minister of housing and urban-rural development
Li Xiaopeng, minister of transport
Li Guoying, minister of water resources
Tang Renjian, minister of agriculture and rural affairs
Wang Wentao, minister of commerce
Hu Heping, minister of culture and tourism
Ma Xiaowei, head of the National Health Commission
Pei Jinjia, minister of veterans affairs
Wang Xiangxi, minister of emergency management
Yi Gang, governor of the People's Bank of China
Hou Kai, auditor-general of the National Audit Office.
Brief Comment: A few observations. First, Li Qiang’s appointment as premier is no surprise. Second, it’s noteworthy that Yi Gang and Liu Kun have been retained in their roles. Third, Qin Gang’s star has seriously risen. In a short time, he has gone from being ambassador to the US to being Foreign Minister and State Councillor. I wonder if this is a structural change in the profile of foreign ministers, which will sustain in the future too. Finally, the appointment of Li Shangfu, who faces US sanctions, as defense minister is interesting. This is a role that is more externally focussed, and Beijing has in the past insisted that the US Defense Secretary engage with its Minister of National Defense as opposed to CMC vice chairs. So this seems, in part, a deliberate pushback.
Next, there’s a long article summarising Xi Jinping’s engagements with delegations at the Two Sessions. I covered each of these in detail over the past week.
Also on the page is a piece with people and cadres around the country fawning over Xi Jinping and his leadership. It says that his unanimous re-election “fully reflects the people’s sincere support and love for General Secretary Xi Jinping.”
“People firmly believe that under the strong leadership of the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core and under the scientific guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, we will be able to write a new chapter in building a comprehensively modern socialist country and create new glories on the journey of national rejuvenation!” 人们坚信，在以习近平同志为核心的党中央坚强领导下，在习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想科学指引下，一定能谱写全面建设社会主义现代化国家崭新篇章，在民族复兴征程上再创新的辉煌!
Page 3: A piece on foreign leaders congratulating Xi on his third term, and Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning and Han Zheng on their new positions. From an Indian perspective, the list includes the president of Nepal and King Wangchuck of Bhutan.
Also on the page is a piece with foreign leaders praising the Chinese-brokered Saudi-Iran deal.
The article unsurprisingly says that “this dialogue has become a successful practice of effectively implementing the Global Security Initiative.” It adds that the “international community has welcomed the reconciliation between the two major powers in the Middle East and believes that China has played a constructive role in properly handling hotspot issues in the world today and has demonstrated its responsibility as a major country.” 此次对话成为有力践行全球安全倡议的一次成功实践，国际社会对中东地区两个大国实现和解表示欢迎，认为中国为妥善处理当今世界的热点问题发挥了建设性作用，展现了大国担当.
The people quoted in the article are UN Secretary General António Guterres, Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib, the office of the Iraqi Prime Minister, a statement from the Yemeni government, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, and a few analysts from the Middle East.
And that’s about it for the paper today.
On Monday, the Two Sessions came to a close. Li Qiang held his press conference as the premier and Xi Jinping delivered a speech. I watched the speech and have transcribed the key points that Xi made below. This will be on the front page of tomorrow’s paper. You can watch the full speech below too.
He said that the “central task” of the Party and the people was to advance the great rejuvenation and build a comprehensively modern socialist country till the middle of the century.
He talked about to need to accelerate the Chinese-style modernisation drive, saying that the baton for future development had been passed on this generation of leaders
Unswervingly uphold high-quality development, apply the new development philosophy, build the new development pattern and uphold the strategy of developing the country through talent and education, promote innovation-driven development, enhance science and technology self-reliance, promote industrial upgrading, advance coordinated urban, rural and regional development, and low-carbon economic and social development, and achieve quality growth, along with “reasonable” growth in quantity
He then talked about “whole-process democracy” and law-based governance.
He then mentioned implementing the people-centred development philosophy, calling for refining the distribution system, improving the social security system and strengthening basic public services. He called for meeting people’s basic needs and addressing the issues that concern the people the most, along with making “substantive progress in advancing common prosperity.”
Consolidate the “great unity” of Chinese people “home and abroad.”
Better coordinate development and security; implement a holistic approach to national security and strengthen the national security system; strengthen national security capacity and public security system and improve social governance system.
Ensure that the Chinese military is built into a “great wall of steel” that “effectively safeguards national sovereignty, security and development interests.”
He said that “building a strong country cannot be realised without long-term prosperity and stability in Hong Kong and Macau.” He called for “fully, firmly and faithfully” implementing one country, two systems in those regions.
On national reunification, he called for implementing the Party’s overall policy for resolving the Taiwan question in the new era, upholding the one-China principle, adhering to the 1992 principle, and promoting the “peaceful development” of cross-Strait ties. He said that “we should resolutely oppose the interference of external forces and secessionist activities of Taiwan independence”, and advance the policy of national rejuvenation and reunification. (This drew a loud applause!)
On foreign policy, he talked about striving to build a community for a shared future for mankind. “China’s development benefits the world and China’s development cannot be realised without the participation of the world.” He talked about making “solid strides” in high-level opening up. What does this mean? Well, Xi said it refers to better utilising the markets and resources internationally for our own development and also at the same time promote common development around the world. We should hold high the banner of peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit. We should always stand at the right side of history, practise true multilateralism, and observe the common values of humanity. We should actively participate in the reform and construction of a global governance system and create an open economy and further practice GDI and GSI in a bid to inject more stability and positive energy into world peace and development, and also foster a favourable international environment for China’s development.”
Finally, he talked about the importance of leadership of the CCP and its Central Committee; the need to be sober-minded and pursuing self-revolution. He said that it was important to firmly oppose corruption and maintain unity, to ensure that the Party never changes colour or flavour.
He ended by emphasising the importance of carrying forward a fighting spirit to ensure national rejuvenation.
Li Qiang, held his first press briefing, today. You can watch the full interaction below:
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