News ID: 272667
Published: 0322 GMT August 09, 2020

Iran’s pact with China is bad news for the West

Iran’s pact with China is bad news for the West

By Alam Saleh, Zakiyeh Yazdanshenas*

China and Iran are entering a 25-year strategic partnership in trade, politics, culture, and security.

Cooperation between China and Middle Eastern countries is neither new nor recent. Yet what distinguishes this development from others is that both China and Iran have global and regional ambitions, both have confrontational relationships with the United States, and there is a security component to the agreement. The military aspect of the agreement concerns the United States, just as last years unprecedented Iran-China-Russia joint naval exercise in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman spooked Washington.

Chinas growing influence in East Asia and Africa has challenged US interests, and the Middle East is the next battlefield on which Beijing can challenge US hegemony — this time through Iran. This is particularly important since the agreement and its implications go beyond the economic sphere and bilateral relations: It operates at the internal, regional, and global level.

Internally, the agreement can be an economic lifeline for Iran, saving its sanctions-hit, cash-strapped economy by ensuring the sale of its oil and gas to China. In addition, Iran will be able to use its strategic ties with China as a bargaining chip in any possible future negotiations with the West by taking advantage of its ability to expand Chinas footprint in the Persian Gulf.

While there are only three months left before the 2020 US presidential election, closer scrutiny of the new Iran-China strategic partnership could jeopardize the possibility of a Republican victory. Thats because the China-Iran strategic partnership proves that the Trump administrations maximum pressure strategy has been a failure.

In the long term, Irans strategic proximity to China implies that Tehran is adapting the Look East” policy in order to boost its regional and military power and to defy and undermine US power in the Persian Gulf region.

For China, the pact can help guarantee its energy security. The Persian Gulf supplies more than half of Chinas energy needs. Thus, securing freedom of navigation through the Persian Gulf is of great importance for China. Saudi Arabia, a close US ally, has now become the top supplier of crude oil to China, as Chinese imports from the kingdom in May set a new record of 2.16 million barrels per day. This dependence is at odds with Chinas general policy of diversifying its energy sources and not being reliant on one supplier.

China fears that as the trade war between the two countries intensifies, the United States may put pressure on those countries not to supply Beijing with the energy it needs.

Chinese-Iranian ties will inevitably reshape the political landscape of the region in favor of Iran and China, further undermining US influence. Indeed, the agreement allows China to play a greater role in one of the most important regions in the world. The strategic landscape has shifted since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. In the new regional order, transnational identities based on religious and sectarian divisions spread and changed the essence of power dynamics.

These changes, as well as US troop withdrawals and the unrest of the Arab Spring, provided an opportunity for powers like Iran to fill the gaps and to boost their regional power. Simultaneously, since Xi Jinping assumed power in 2012, the Chinese government has expressed a stronger desire to make China a world power and to play a more active role in other regions. This ambition manifested itself in introducing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which highlighted the strategic importance of the Middle East.

China grasps Irans position and importance as a regional power in the new Middle East. Regional developments in recent years have consolidated Irans influence. Unlike the United States, China has adopted an apolitical development-oriented approach to the region, utilizing Irans regional power to expand economic relations with nearby countries and establish security in the region through what it calls developmental peace — rather than the Western notion of democratic peace.

US President Donald Trumps withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018, and the subsequent introduction of the maximum pressure policy, was the last effort by the US government to halt Irans growing influence in the region. Although this policy has hit Irans economy hard, it has not been able to change the countrys regional and military policies yet. As such, the newfound strategic cooperation between China and Iran will further undermine US leverage, paving the way for China to play a more active role in the Middle East.

The Chinese-Iranian strategic partnership will also impact neighboring regions, including  South Asia. In 2016, India and Iran signed an agreement to invest in Irans strategic Chabahar port and to construct the railway connecting the southeastern port city of Chabahar to the eastern city of Zahedan and to link India to landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia.

The implementation of Irans proposal to expand the existing China-Pakistan Economic Corridor along northern, western, and southern axes and link Gwadar Port in Pakistan to Chabahar and then to Europe and to Central Asia through Iran by a rail network is now more probable. If that plan proceeds, the golden ring consisting of China, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and Turkey will turn into the centerpiece of BRI, linking China to Iran and onward to Central Asia, the Caspian Sea, and to the Mediterranean Sea through Iraq and Syria.

On July 16, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that Jask Port would become the countrys main oil loading point.

By placing a greater focus on the development of the two strategic ports of Jask and Chabahar, Iran is attempting to shift its geostrategic focus from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman. This would allow Tehran to avoid the tense Persian Gulf region, reduces the journey distance for oil tankers shipping Iranian oil.

The bilateral agreement provides China with an extraordinary opportunity to participate in the development of this port. China will be able to add Jask to its network of strategic hubs in the region. According to this plan, regional industrial parks developed by Chinese companies in some Persian Gulf countries will link up to ports where China has a strong presence. This interconnected network of industrial parks and ports can further challenge the United Statesdominant position in the region surrounding the strategically vital Strait of Hormuz.

A strategic partnership between Iran and China will also affect the great-power rivalry between the United States and China. While China remains the largest trading partner of the United States and there are still extensive bilateral relations between the two global powers, their competition has intensified in various fields to the point that many observers argue the world is entering a new cold war. Given the geopolitical and economic importance of the Middle East, the deal with Iran gives China yet another perch from which it can challenge US power.

Meanwhile, Tehran is going to take advantage of ties with Beijing to consolidate its regional position. Last but not least, while the United States has been benefiting from rivalry and division in the region, Chinese-Iranian partnership could eventually reshape the regions security landscape by promoting stability through the Chinese approach of developmental peace.


*Alam Saleh is a lecturer in Iranian studies at Australian National Universitys Center for Arab and Islamic Studies.

*Zakiyeh Yazdanshenas is a research fellow at the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies.


Source: Foreign Policy 



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