Is China on the side of Iran or the United States?

In its latest issue, Foreign Policy has published an article by Wang Xiu, a Chinese-American researcher and expert on the Middle East, analyzing the 25-year Iran-China Pact.

The author of this article believes that despite recent media reports about a major major agreement between China and Iran, neither Beijing nor its media is endangering its relations with Washington in order to build a broader relationship with Tehran. It is an exaggeration to say that Iran has relied heavily on this agreement.

Chinese ambition?

According to Foreign Policy, some analysts see the deal not only as a sign of China’s relentless ambition to expand its global influence, but also as a sign of the failure of the Trump administration’s so-called maximum pressure campaign against Iran. Has pushed Iran into China. All of these commentators see the agreement as a major event and exaggerate China’s willingness and capacity to help Iran in its confrontation with the United States.

Although China has been Iran’s largest trading partner since 2009, Iran is only part of China’s trading and trading network. According to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, trade with Iran at its peak in 2014 was worth $ 51.85 billion, or 1.2 percent of China’s total foreign trade, and has fallen sharply since then. China’s trade with Saudi Arabia and the UAE was $ 69.15 billion and $ 54.8 billion, respectively. In contrast, Sino-US trade volume that year was $ 555 billion, or 12.9 percent of China’s total foreign trade. Geopolitically, the infrastructure projects referred to in the agreement, such as the development of the Jask and Chabahar ports and the Central Asia Railway project, will have unique benefits for Iran more than China, if realized.

Where did the idea for the pact come from?

The idea of ​​the agreement was proposed in early 2016 by Chinese President Xi Jinping during a visit to Tehran after the implementation of Borjam. Aware of China’s unique role in dealing with Iran during the difficult period of sanctions before the nuclear deal, he hoped to expand cooperation between Iran and China, and apparently expected to enjoy some sort of preferential trade relationship in Iran under Borjam. After this trip, many large Chinese companies entered Iran and looked forward to new opportunities with great optimism. However, despite initial optimism, shortly after the implementation of the nuclear deal, many Western companies suddenly targeted Iranian markets, and growing demand for Chinese goods in Iran declined.

According to the author of Foreign Policy, under normal circumstances, Iranians clearly prefer non-Chinese goods; Even the Iranian media criticizes the quality of Chinese-made goods. In fact, Iranians prefer to work with Western partners if possible, because working with multiple partners is politically and economically safer than just one. For example, even if China had been looking to invest in South Pars for a long time, Iran did not hesitate to give Total the South Pars Phase 11 project to Total, and China National Oil Company became the second largest shareholder in the project after Total.

It has previously been rumored that the Sino-Iranian partnership involves significant military cooperation, but such rumors seem almost impossible. Apart from the unacceptability of the presence of foreign troops on Iranian soil, China is also cautious in the field of security. For example, since 2008 Iran has applied for full membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, but despite recent explicit Russian support, China has refused. Iran has become complete in this organization. In fact, maintaining the balance of power among regional actors in the Middle East by pursuing a policy of non-partisanship is clearly in China’s interest.

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Deal with Chinese leaves

The author of the article claims that publishing the news of this agreement is more of a Chinese-style tactic. The news in Iran sends a message to the negotiating parties that Iran is offering its alternative. The news of this agreement is more in Tehran’s favor, as it challenges the passionate propaganda of the Americans about the effectiveness of the Trump administration’s campaign of maximum pressure and indicates the failure of this policy.

However, the Chinese side has not yet commented on the agreement, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry has refrained from answering reporters’ questions.

China’s silence on the issue suggests that in order to continue its economic growth, it must manage tensions and manage its relations with the United States.

Although China poses a serious challenge to the new US-led world order, China’s willingness and ability as an economic option for Iran in the face of US sanctions should not be overstated. When Kerry Lam, the pro-Beijing chief executive in Hong Kong, runs out of bank accounts and has to be paid in cash because of US sanctions – even in China itself – the question is to what extent China can defy the US. ? It should be noted that in December 2018, just one month after the implementation of US sanctions against Iran’s oil and gas sector, in the midst of US-China trade disputes, the China National Petroleum Corporation invested in the South Pars Iran gas field project. Suspended and was completely out of the project by October 2019.

Beyond the Covenant

However, Zhouyi believes that this does not mean that Iran and China will not continue their limited cooperation. In fact, these relations will be at the level of Iran’s relations with other Asian powers such as India. Major economies such as China and India are interested in diversifying their oil resources to gain energy security and access to a wider international market through Iran’s transportation network.

If Beijing is really negotiating such an agreement with Tehran, it actually wants to make its options for the post-government period light and heavy. It seems that the main goal of China’s foreign policy in the coming years will be to repair its relations with the United States, and any potential agreement will be subject to this greater necessity.

China’s interests in Iran will be best served when there is a controlled tension between Iran and the United States, that is, when there is a significant cost to keep major international competitors away so that Chinese traders and investors can access Iranian markets. Have; However, this tension should not reach a very high level and the level of sanctions that prevent the flow of capital.