It’s going to be a difficult job in an increasingly tense climate. China is stepping into the fray between Saudi Arabia and Iran, calling for restraint and sending an envoy to try to de-escalate the situation after Sunni-majority Riyadh executed a Shiite cleric last week, angering Tehran, Reuters reported Thursday.
“We hope the situation in the Middle East can move in the direction of amelioration,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying. “We hope that all parties can remain calm and exercise restraint and appropriately resolve relevant issues via dialog and consultation.”
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Ming was already in Saudi Arabia and next planned to travel to Iran, Chunying said. His trip comes as Iran blamed Saudi Arabia for attacking its embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, Thursday. A Saudi-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes in Yemen and the embassy attack reportedly took place during the bombing. The conflict in Yemen represents another regional fight between Sunnis and Shiites.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Jaber Ansari issued a statement that “strongly condemned the Saudi aircraft missile attack on Iran’s Embassy in Sana, which caused damage to the embassy building and wounded a number of the building’s guards.”
Beijing relies on oil from the region and has increasingly been exercising diplomatic muscle in an area traditionally dominated by the U.S. as well as other United Nations Security Council members. Beijing’s foreign minister has met with the Syrian National Coalition as countries worry increased tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia could negatively affect peace talks and the fight against the Islamic State group.
Countries in the wider region have continued to declare their support to either Iran or Saudi Arabia with Somalia severing ties with Iran Thursday. Somalia joins Bahrain, Djibouti, Qatar and Sudan in supporting Riyadh. Qatar recalled its ambassador to Iran Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia severed its own diplomatic ties with Iran Sunday after widespread protests and attacks were held outside its embassy following the execution.