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Bessma Momani is a professor in the department of political science at the University of Waterloo.

On Friday, when Beijing helped ink a Saudi-Iranian communiqué to restore diplomatic ties seven years after they were severed, it gave all parties involved a needed win. Iran can claim a foreign-policy success that might stop the popular Saudi-backed satellite channel, Iran International, from highlighting a nationwide social movement for women’s rights; Saudi Arabia has opened up diplomatic pathways to convince Iran to stop sponsoring attacks on its oil facilities, which would help drive international investment into expensive nationalist megaprojects such as NEOM, the Line and Mukaab. And Beijing gets to thumb its nose at the United States by brokering a diplomatic deal in a region long seen by Washington as in its sphere of influence.

The agreement itself had been in the works for more than two years, but through talks brokered by Iraq and Oman. Undoubtedly, the hard work leading up to Friday’s photo-op between top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi, Supreme National Security Council of Iran secretary Ali Shamkhani and Saudi Minister of State and national security adviser Musaad bin Mohammed Al Aiban were laid by these previous intraregional talks; the terms do not appear to differ substantially from what Baghdad and Muscat had already helped to sketch out. But it was Beijing that ultimately proved that it had the global heft to act as the figurative underwriter, claiming (perhaps with some embellishment) that it had been undertaking weeks of shuttle diplomacy to make it happen.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who formally secured the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party for an unprecedented third term on the same day the deal was announced, will relish in the optics. Mr. Xi will claim he successfully implemented China’s foreign-policy principles of prioritizing sovereignty and non-interference in the Middle East, while utilizing economic statecraft, through promised investment into infrastructure development. Of course, the subtext is that the world should stay quiet on China’s repression of the Uyghurs and Tibetans, not to mention its rollbacks of democracy in Hong Kong. And in the region, China has sold advanced surveillance technology and 5G telecommunication infrastructure – which it uses itself for its dystopian digital authoritarian state in the Xinjiang region – to autocrats facing their populations’ own demands for human rights.

China is clearly working to contrast its foreign-policy approach to the United States’ more militarized one. The U.S., after all, has established its influence in the region through the sale of billions of dollars of weapons to Arab Gulf states and with the construction of several military bases. One cannot forget that the U.S. instigated a disastrous regime change in Iraq, too, the 20th anniversary of which takes place this week; China will use this diplomatic win in the Middle East as a cudgel in reminding the world of that catastrophe, and to make a false equivalence to the West’s current military support for Ukraine.

The Americans claimed they were supportive of the rapprochement and that the Saudis had kept them aware of these negotiations, but reading between the lines, they were likely blindsided by the agreement. On Thursday, leaks to Western media outlets suggested that Riyadh was seeking U.S. civilian nuclear technology and fewer restrictions on its arms purchases in a potential normalization deal with Israel, which the U.S. is trying to broker. But U.S. President Joe Biden would not be able to get that through a polarized U.S. Congress, even after an embarrassing fist-bump last summer with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after he’d called the Saudi government a “pariah.”

American hypocrisies are celebrated in Beijing, and the White House has provided fodder recently. Just last week, despite the objections of progressive Jewish American leaders, the Biden administration granted a visa to Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who had called for the “wiping out” of the Palestinian town of Huwara. Mr. Smotrich is among the many far-right demagogues in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government, which has earned the ire of hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have been protesting its attempt to destroy Israel’s judicial autonomy, a strategy borrowed from Mr. Netanyahu’s ally, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Beyond its platitudes, the Biden administration has done little despite the leverage it has, in the form of the billions Washington earmarks annually for Israeli military aid.

The United States still has significant influence in the Middle East, so it would be a folly to argue that China is replacing it in the region any time soon. But if Mr. Biden continues to pitch his foreign policy principles as a high-stakes battle between democracies and autocracies, he needs to understand that perceptions of America’s moral credibility have been diminishing for years – and that in his framing, the autocrats now get to crow about their victories.