New Delhi: China and Iran are on the verge of signing an economic and strategic agreement worth $400 billion, but India wants to ensure that the Chabahar project in the West Asian country doesn’t see any Chinese involvement.
This was among the reasons why External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, who is travelling to Moscow Tuesday for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s foreign ministers’ meeting, made a stopover in Iran’s capital Tehran to meet his counterpart Javad Zarif.
Jaishankar tweeted after the meeting that he and Zarif had discussed bilateral cooperation and regional developments.
A productive meeting with FM @JZarif during a stopover in Tehran. Discussed strengthening our bilateral cooperation and reviewed regional developments. Thank him for his gracious hospitality. pic.twitter.com/Ec9sqO5I6U
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) September 8, 2020
Zarif also tweeted about the meeting, saying “active engagement with our neighbourhood is our top priority”.
Pleased to host my Indian counterpart @DrSJaishankar in Tehran for talks today.
Discussed expansion of bilateral relations and trade, and exchanged views on important regional issues.
Our active engagement with our neighborhood is our top priority. pic.twitter.com/03F8F9VBdb
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) September 8, 2020
The meeting was planned some time ago, when Jaishankar confirmed his participation at the SCO meeting. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who had also gone to Moscow last week, had made a stop in Iran on his return.
The China-Iran agreement, which will overshadow the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, is set to include a major port development project on the Strait of Hormuz. India is concerned that the deal is set to be signed at a time when it hasn’t been able to complete the Chabahar Port project due to the stringent American sanctions imposed on Iran, diplomatic sources told ThePrint.
The sources said once the Chinese gain entry into that country, they may also try to “grab” the Chabahar project.
How China could take over Chabahar project phase 2
India has finished the first phase of the project, which entailed modernising the Chabahar Port and operating it. However, the second phase, which includes constructing a rail link between the port city in the south-eastern part of Iran with Zahedan, provincial capital of the Sistan-Baluchestan region, and onwards to Sarakhs at the border with Turkmenistan, remains incomplete.
This strategic transit is part of Iran’s International North-South Transit Corridor, which will significantly reduce the traditional trade routes between the markets of India and European and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries. The link will also boost the Iranian economy.
But due to India’s inability to complete the project, the Iranians have now decided to do it on their own, but left the door open for India to join. Now, with the Chinese coming into the picture, India is “worried” that Beijing may pour in capital and take over the project, sources said.
According to leaked documents on the China-Iran deal, China will also get access to supplies of crude oil and gas from Iran at discounted prices for the next 25 years.
All these issues are expected to be taken up during the next India-Iran joint commission meeting, which is expected to take place in November-December.
Another source said the results of the US presidential elections will have a bearing on whether India takes a call on resuming oil purchases from Iran, which it stopped in May 2019 under pressure from the Donald Trump administration.
India concerned over 5-country alliance
India is also worried about an alliance proposed by Iran recently, which will include China, Turkey, Russia and Pakistan, sources said. The alliance is fast taking shape and the countries may soon make an announcement.
The alliance has become a “major concern” for the Western world as well as it seeks to build a network of economic, defence and security apparatus.
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