The recent sanctions and isolationist policy of the White House towards China and Iran declaring them to be the US adversaries directly gave an impetus to countermoves of these countries against Washington’s policy. In that regard, the preparation announced by Iran in July for concluding a bilateral strategic Pact between Tehran and Beijing, involving an unprecedented wide range of joint projects for a 25 years term, is an instance not only of strengthening strategic cooperation between the two countries, but also joint confrontation with the United States.
China is currently Iran’s major economic partner. Energy resources and China’s growing demand for energy supplies form the bases of the economic partnership between Iran and China. 2016 turned out to be the key year in the development of Iranian and Chinese relations following the visit of Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, to Tehran, who was the first world leader to visit Iran after the lifting of Western sanctions. During this visit, 17 agreements were signed, of particular note is the agreement on comprehensive strategic partnership and the adjacent 25-year Program for the development of relations and expansion of trade, which is mainly targeted to increase trade turnover from 35 to 600 billion dollars in ten years.
It was through Chinese investments that Iran was successful in resisting Western sanctions and developing within its limited capabilities. Iran considers China as a potential ally in the sanctions war imposed by the United States, as well as a strong economic partner, a major supplier of investment and technology required for economic development and modernization. Iran’s inability to achieve its strategic goals in the region through cooperation with other major partners, in particular, India and Brazil, has made Beijing in fact an ideal strategic partner for Tehran. At the same time, Tehran considered that Indian interests are too closely linked with the United States to support Tehran to the detriment of Washington. As a geopolitical actor, Brazil lacks economic, military, and geopolitical capital.
In the current context of increasing tension in the Sino-US relationship, Iran clearly believes that China will help it to support the economy and become an important counterbalance for the United States. Moreover, Tehran will acquire additional and quite significant leverage for future negotiations with the United States and Europe having closer ties with Beijing while discussing the JCPOA to be revised or restored in the main format as well as in their relations with regional rivals, in particular, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
China, on its part, is also clearly interested in developing a comprehensive agreement with Iran, a major key actor in the region whose significant energy resources and economic potential make it an important participant in the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative oriented in the Western direction, introduced by China Now, China already purchases oil from Iran at a discount and has become an Iranian key trading partner, including its main supplier of heavy machinery and industrial products. In addition, in the context the US intentions to withdraw from Afghanistan, a partnership with Iran can give China almost total control over the strategic corridor spreading from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea, expanding its presence in Western Asia.
Of course, at the same time, Beijing is calculating certain risks of deepening strategic cooperation with Tehran, since such steps can lead to causing discontent in Washington and could even result in additional US sanctions and restrictions on access to the US market which is much bigger than the Iranian one. In addition, such a strategic rapprochement may have a bad impact on Beijing’s regional partnership with Israel and Saudi Arabia, which are involved in proxy wars with Iran and covert operations against it at the insistence of Washington. That is why the preparation of the bilateral strategic Pact in Beijing has not been advertised much until recently.
Under these circumstances, an 18-page draft treaty that recently appeared in the media has attracted considerable attention in many countries. Thus, observers note Beijing’s intention to invest $400 billion in Iran and participate in the development of vital areas of the Iranian economy and infrastructure, including the Belt and Road mega-project within the framework of the joint Chinese and Iranian cooperation, the routes of which will run through entire Eurasia. Moreover, China plans to develop free trade zones in the North of Iran, as well as on the Persian Gulf coast.
Besides economic dimensions, the upcoming Treaty includes security issues and partnership in military activities, as well as a joint creation of new types of weapons. In particular, it is planned to help Iran in develop ballistic missiles, exchange data in the intelligence and security areas, including the Persian Gulf region.
The new agreement between Tehran and Beijing represents a change in the strategic calculus of both countries in the current international environment, where international norms and principles have been largely undermined by the unilateral and aggressive policies of the Trump Administration towards Iran and China. In addition to strengthening bilateral strategic cooperation between these countries, we can also see a growing alliance being formed between them and neighboring Pakistan potentially joining Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria over time, which will create a real counterweight to American hegemony in the region and in the international arena in general.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the news of the Sino-Iranian agreement caused a chorus of condemnation in the West and a wave of propaganda publications inspired by the United States and its allies aimed at creating contradictions between Iran, China and the countries in the region. However, in this political-strategic and information game, the Iran-Chinese Joker will clearly win and gain political and economic benefits from such deepening strategic cooperation.
Vladimir Platov, an expert on Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.