In an exclusive interview with Iran Daily, Majidreza Hariri, the chairman of the Iran-China Joint Chamber of Commerce, expressed his positive assessment of the trip and the future of economic ties between the two countries.
How do you evaluate the current state of economic ties between Tehran and Beijing? Do you think that Abdollahian’s talks in China can yield economic achievements and agreements for Iran?
The year 2021 was marked as the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Iran and China. In the same year, the 25-Year Cooperation Plan between Tehran and Beijing was signed and Iran became a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
In the last 50 years, relations between the two countries have been expanding, especially after the end of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, Iran’s relations with China became more organized as the Chinese side participated in important Iranian projects including construction power plants and subways. These ties were to some extent influenced by former president Rouhani’s tenure, after the signing of the JCPOA and the dominance of a policy of looking to the West.
Of course, economic relations between Iran and China did not decline during this period. For example, in 2014, bilateral trade reached $51.8 billion, which was a record. In January 2016, during the Chinese president’s visit to Iran, the sides targeted a bilateral trade of $60 billion per year.
Unfortunately, what occurred after the US withdrawal from the JCPOA and the return of sanctions, Iran-China relations declined because a large part of the two countries’ relations was in the field of oil and gas.
However, since two years ago, Iran has again moved towards strengthening relations with China, which was the beginning of a path that eventually led to the 25-Year Cooperation Plan between Tehran and Beijing.
So, do you think the economic importance of Amir-Abdollahian’s visit is greater than the political?
The main goal of this trip is political, and it is in response to the recent visit of the Chinese foreign minister to Iran. However, the importance of the visit is both political and economic. It is said that any political action must have economic consequences. Certainly, consultations are scheduled during the talks between the two foreign ministers on the implementation plans of the 25-Year Cooperation Plan between Tehran and Beijing.
Last week, before his departure, Amir-Abdollahian held a meeting with various economic sectors, both state-run and private sector, including the Iran Chamber of Commerce, to discuss their economic views in his talks in China. I hope that they will reach an agreement to implement the 25-year cooperation document, because both sides are determined to formulate an executive plan and introduce projects to start work.
I would also like to remind you that the foreign ministers of the Persian Gulf littoral states have been in China since January 12 and had talks with the Chinese foreign minister. And now, after these talks, the Iranian foreign minister visits China to discuss regional issues as well. The Persian Gulf littoral states have opted to have better relations with China in order to avoid reliance on oil sales to the United States.
Will China’s political and economic cooperation with the Persian Gulf littoral states conflict with Iran’s interests in the region?
No! China has repeatedly stated that it will not ally with any country against a third country. Beijing looks at the globalization of the economy in a wide range. The Chinese have economic relations with all countries, even with countries that are not politically aligned.
The Persian Gulf region is China’s largest source of energy, so it is important for the Chinese to maintain peace in the region. Definitely, the Chinese foreign minister’s talks with his regional counterparts are aimed at bringing them closer, rather than trying to take advantage of the differences between the regional governments.
You said that political action has economic consequences. Do you think that Iran’s political talks with P4+1 in Vienna, if successful, would also have a positive impact on Iran-China economic relations?
Undoubtedly, our differences with the US-led Western world have had a detrimental effect on our economic relations with other countries, including China, Russia, and our neighbors. Because when we are under sanctions, international companies are also restricted and cautious in cooperation with Iran. For example, China is an economic partner of over 120 countries in the world, and it is normal that their economic relations with our country would decline during the sanctions period. But this does not mean that bilateral relations would be cut, or would reach a minimum. In the past 10 years, as we have been under severe sanctions, China has not cut economic ties with Iran.
Although the volume of our exchanges decreased, the presence of China in Iran and of Iranian goods in Chinese markets has increased significantly compared to a decade ago.
When Iran’s total trade with the world was $200 billion per year, our annual trade with China stood at $52 billion; this means that China had a 25 percent share in Iran’s foreign trade, but today this figure is about 27 percent.
According to statistics for the first nine-months of the current Iranian year (March 21-December 21, 2021), China was the destination of 29 percent of Iran’s non-oil exports. At the same time, it has been the main source for supplying the goods needed by Iran.
In the field of oil, it was the only country that officially announced that it would not accept sanctions on Iranian oil.
If an agreement is reached in Vienna, sanctions are lifted, then according to the 25-Year Cooperation Plan between Tehran and Beijing, the conditions for the development of Iran-China trade would improve. It is possible that in one year our trade with China will double the current situation, and in the coming years we will reach the annual target of $60 billion.
Some point out that in order to achieve the goals of the 25-year plan and hit the target of $60-billion trade per year, the capacity for it must be built in Iran and, in particular, infrastructure must be improved.
An important part of the 25-Year Cooperation Plan between Tehran and Beijing is related to infrastructure development for which Chinese companies will cooperate in Iran. In areas including the construction of ports, airports, railways, power plants and shipbuilding, we need technology and investment for which China has the capabilities and can work with us.
They are ready to invest and transfer technology to Iran for the 25-Year Cooperation Plan between Tehran and Beijing and the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, known in Iran as the New Silk Road.
In Iran, we should spend our petrodollars on infrastructure development. By boosting relations with China, and by selling oil to China, we can provide the necessary resources to invest in our infrastructure. This means that the Chinese can buy our crude oil while they have the technological and financial capacity to invest in Iran’s infrastructure.