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The China-Iran strategic partnership, and how it can change geopolitics in the Middle East

New York Times reports amid US sanctions on Iran, the partnership would entail trade, investment, military cooperation and possibly Chinese military bases.

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New Delhi: China and Iran are reported to have quietly drafted a comprehensive military and trade partnership. The deal would make way for about $400 billion worth of Chinese investments into Iran’s key sectors, such as energy and infrastructure, over the next 25 years.

According to US officials, the agreement could also make way for Chinese military bases in Iran, fundamentally changing the region’s geopolitics.

ThePrint looks at the proposed deal, what led to it and its implications for the Middle East.

The deal

An 18-page draft of the proposed agreement was accessed and reported by the New York Times (NYT), and it talks about expanding Chinese presence in Iran’s “banking, telecommunications, ports, railways and dozens of other projects”. In return, Iran is to provide regular and “heavily discounted” supply of oil to China for 25 years.

In the strategic realm, the proposed draft talks about deepening military cooperation, with “joint training and exercises”, “joint research and weapons development”, and intelligence sharing.

This deepening military cooperation would be intended to fight the “the lopsided battle with terrorism, drug and human trafficking and cross-border crimes”.

The deal is reported to have been first proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his 2016 visit to Tehran, and the proposed draft was approved by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif over the last couple of weeks.

These moves come at a time when the Iranian economy has been crippled by sweeping US sanctions, which have ensured that any company in the world that deals with Iran would be cut off from the global financial system.

The deal has not been presented to the Iranian parliament yet, and Beijing is still to disclose the terms of the deal, though Iranian officials have publicly acknowledged that there is a “pending agreement with China”.

Also read: Iran, China use Twitter to target US over protests, call out ‘double standards’

What does it entail?

The opening sentence of the proposed draft says: “Two ancient Asian cultures, two partners in the sectors of trade, economy, politics, culture and security with a similar outlook and many mutual bilateral and multilateral interests will consider one another strategic partners.”

There are nearly 100 projects cited in the document that would have Chinese investments, and are expected to be a part of Xi’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims to extend China’s strategic influence across Eurasia.

These 100 projects include “airports, high-speed railways and subways”, effectively touching the lives of most Iranian citizens.

“China would (also) develop free-trade zones in Maku, in northwestern Iran; in Abadan, where the Shatt al-Arab river flows into the Persian Gulf, and on the gulf island Qeshm,” notes the NYT report.

The draft agreement also talks about China building infrastructure for 5G telecommunications network in Iran. This would see Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei — a company that has come under severe US sanctions and been banned by many countries across the world such as the United Kingdom and Australia — enter the Iranian market.

Chinese global positioning system BeiDou is also proposed to assist Iran’s cyber authorities in regulating what is shared in the country’s cyberspace, potentially paving the way for Iran to develop a China-like “great firewall”.

US ‘pushed’ Iran into China’s arms

Since coming to power in 2017, US President Donald Trump has withdrawn from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which froze the country’s nuclear programme, and enforced comprehensive sanctions on Iran, devastating its economy. Now “Tehran’s desperation has pushed it into the arms of China”, remarks the NYT report.

“Iran and China both view this deal as a strategic partnership in not just expanding their own interests but confronting the US. It is the first of its kind for Iran, keen on having a world power as an ally,” said Ali Gholizadeh, who works at University of Science and Technology of China in Beijing.

Until now, Iran used to seek European cooperation for trade and investment, but it has reportedly grown increasingly frustrated with it.

“The draft agreement with Iran shows that unlike most countries, China feels it is in a position to defy the United States, powerful enough to withstand American penalties, as it has in the trade war waged by President Trump,” said the NYT report.

The US State Department spokesperson said the US would continue to “impose costs on Chinese companies that aid Iran”.

Also read: US seeks indefinite arms embargo on Iran in UN resolution

Middle East geopolitics

For decades now, the US forces have dominated the Middle East’s security paradigm, but this agreement could now provide China with a foothold in the region, according to unnamed US officials in the NYT report.

Analysts contend that when China develops strategic ports in various countries, there is a possibility that it might militarise them at some point.

In the proposed draft, China plans to build several ports in Iran, one of them at Jask, just outside the Gulf of Hormuz, which is the entrance to the Persian Gulf.

The Gulf of Hormuz is among the nine key maritime chokepoints across the world. All of these chokepoints are controlled by the US, which many security analysts believe is a marker of US strategic hegemony over the world.

Now, a Chinese port at Jask “would give the Chinese a strategic vantage point on the waters through which much of the world’s oil transits. The passage is of critical strategic importance to the United States, whose Navy’s Fifth Fleet is headquartered in Bahrain in the gulf,” the NYT report states.

Also read: Why 3 explosions in 3 weeks near Iran’s strategic facilities have left the country unnerved


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  1. Without the likes of elder Bush Clinton and Obama in future; america is finished as a superpower.Just look at the way covid 19 is handled right now.A selfish and stupid leader is the last thing america needs.Americans should kick the cranky president out of office quickly! The sooner the better!

  2. We Indian missed the bus…. after all we are close ally….modi government change the face of Indian stand….now it is pro American… without thinking the consequences…

  3. The biggest mistake is how the so-called “free and democratic West” employ so much blackmail, betrayal, cheating, lies, bombing and killing men, women and children with such impunity, and still demand China to somehow acquiesce… but the cat is now out of the bag, and the Judeo-Christian/White nationalists demand a battle of civilization, and thus the battle lines are being drawn…
    OCT-2019: Wuhan Military World Games (9,308 athletes participated, some are known to be COVID-19 patient zeroes; i.e. Elodie Clouvel, France)
    NOV-2019: USA+ISRAEL+NATO share “new coronavirus outbreak in China (before China even knew what was really happening)
    DEC-2019: CHINA REPORTS TO THE WHO ABOUT A “CLUSTER PNEUMONIA-LIKE OUTBREAK IN WUHAN” (to be officially identified as the novel (new) coronavirus in January)
    FEB-2020: The WHO announces that the disease caused by the new coronavirus be named COVID-19
    MAR-2020: WHITE HOUSE MAINTAINS THAT “KUNG-FLU IS FROM CHINA” and “ASIAN-AMERICANS AGREE 100% THAT IT’S THE CHINESE VIRUS” (really? Not even close… completely opposite!)
    FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON FOR CHINA LIJIAN ZHAO ANNOUNCES CIRCUMSTANTIAL FACTS REGARDING OTHER POSSIBILITIES OF THE ORIGINS OF THE COVID-19 OUTBREAK (mainstream Western news media quickly and unequivocally dismiss the FM spokesperson statements as “conspiracy theories”) – the CNN article omits a number of facts, including the military games’ athletes that somehow contracted COVID-19 back in October, at that suspected alternative epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, does not acknowledge the intelligence data indication that somehow that high-ranking officials within the US and closest European allies had first-hand knowledge of the oncoming pandemic…

  4. Don’t cry rindians,,,,, acting big without big balls,,,, chinese have shown how to kick chamaars

  5. India should change its foreign policy…. China is now rising super power…. America is descending…. I think India should elevate its relationship with their neighbours….. Accusing China will not serve any purpose for India…. India has already lost Iran due to the pressure of America….. It is established that America is a selfish country…..They cannot stretch their help crossing pacific ocean….. India should try tobe neutral..

  6. India should change its foreign policy…. China is now rising super power…. America is descending…. I think India should elevate its relationship with their neighbours….. Accusing China will not serve any purpose for India…. India has already lost Iran due to the pressure of America….. It is established that America is a selfish country…..They cannot stretch their help crossing pacific ocean….. India should try tobe neutral…. China is the reality….India should discern….

  7. Well, the fight for the future of the world is on. I certainly have issues with much of the way the US carries out domestic and foreign policy but I’d much rather have my children grow up in a US dominated world, then a China dominated world with state-controlled repression. China is a threat to the world unlike any before. They should be stopped now.

  8. Not really a surprise.
    Communists and Islamists have always been the best of friends. Have stood by each other through thick and thin.
    Even today, the only Indian political party which cries hoarse over Palestine is the CPI(M).

  9. A good fit. The more poetically inclined would all it a Marriage made in heaven. India’s economy is not in the same league, but we too are a large importer of oil and gas. Iran is so much closer than Venezuela or the US. A similar long term partnership could have been created, notwithstanding the two countries having different perspectives on America. 2. Not everything in the world is about chokepoints, military dominance, geopolitical rivalry. The core of this $ 400 billion deal is economic. China has reached where it has by being pragmatic. Xi should have chosen Deng, not Mao, as his role model.

  10. Blame the neocons . Short sighted statecraft. When the Soviet Union fell apart, instead of leaving a weakened Russia alone it was encircled by extending NATO to its borders. With European allies USA isolated Russia. Add to that sanctions were imposed on every things even for its strategically important Nod-stream pipe line projects Now Russia is strategic ally of China,more out of compulsion than volition.Chinese are far sighted. Deng’s reforms came into full fruition many many years after his demise. China’s rise is a lesson for real statecraft. In contrast American policies are disasters. Handful of Zionists whose thinking and decisions are are predicated on the interests of Israel is to be blamed for this colossal failures

    • Well why should you side a dying world-power like America. Why not to be practical and side with raising world-power like China . What will happen if trump losses election .

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