Iran and Saudi Arabia signal the start of a new era, with China front and center

Wang Yi, China's top diplomat, with Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani and national security adviser of Saudi Arabia Musaad bin Mohammed Al Aiban in Beijing on March 10, 2023.

London (CNN)When Saudi Arabia and Iran buried the hatchet in Beijing on Friday, it was a game-changing moment both for a Middle East shaped by their decades-old rivalry, and for China's growing influence in the oil-rich region.

The announcement was surprising yet expected. The two regional powerhouses have been in talks to re-establish diplomatic relations for nearly two years. At times, negotiators seemed to drag their feet, the deep distrust between the two countries appearing immovable.
Iran's talks with Saudi Arabia were unfolding at the same time as negotiations between Iran and the United States to revive the 2016 nuclear deal were faltering. The outcomes of both sets of Iran talks seemed interlinked -- Riyadh and Washington have long walked in lockstep on foreign policy.
    But a shift in regional alliances is afoot. Saudi Arabia's relationship with the US has become strained in recent years, while China's standing has risen. Unlike Washington, Beijing has shown an ability to transcend the many rivalries that criss-cross the Middle East. China has forged good diplomatic relations with countries across the region, driven by strengthening economic ties, without the Western lectures on human rights.
      In retrospect, Beijing has been poised to broker the conflict-ridden Middle East's latest diplomatic breakthrough for years, simultaneously underscoring the US' diminishing regional influence.