What's new

Iran’s Pact With China Is Bad News for the West

Feng Leng

SENIOR MEMBER
Aug 3, 2017
3,867
-14
9,681
Country
China
Location
China
Iran’s Pact With China Is Bad News for the West

Tehran’s new strategic partnership with Beijing will give the Chinese a strategic foothold and strengthen Iran’s economy and regional clout.

A recently leaked document suggests that 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 year’s unprecedented Iran-China-Russia joint naval exercise in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman spooked Washington.

China’s growing influence in East Asia and Africa has challenged U.S. interests, and the Middle East is the next battlefield on which Beijing can challenge U.S. 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 China’s footprint in the Persian Gulf.

While there are only three months left before the 2020 U.S. presidential election, closer scrutiny of the new Iran-China strategic partnership could jeopardize the possibility of a Republican victory. That’s because the China-Iran strategic partnership proves that the Trump administration’s maximum pressure strategy has been a failure; not only did it fail to restrain Iran and change its regional behavior, but it pushed Tehran into the arms of Beijing.

In the long term, Iran’s strategic proximity to China implies that Tehran is adapting the so-called “Look East” policy in order to boost its regional and military power and to defy and undermine U.S. power in the Persian Gulf region.

For China, the pact can help guarantee its energy security. The Persian Gulf supplies more than half of China’s energy needs. Thus, securing freedom of navigation through the Persian Gulf is of great importance for China. Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. 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 China’s general policy of diversifying its energy sources and not being reliant on one supplier. (China’s other Arab oil suppliers in the Persian Gulf region have close security ties with the United States.)

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. A comprehensive strategic partnership with Iran is both a hedge and an insurance policy; it can provide China with a guaranteed and discounted source of energy.

Chinese-Iranian ties will inevitably reshape the political landscape of the region in favor of Iran and China, further undermining U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. troop withdrawals and the unrest of the Arab Spring, provided an opportunity for middle 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 Iran’s position and importance as a regional power in the new Middle East. Regional developments in recent years have consolidated Iran’s influence. Unlike the United States, China has adopted an apolitical development-oriented approach to the region, utilizing Iran’s 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. It’s an approach that authoritarian states in the Middle East tend to welcome.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018, and the subsequent introduction of the maximum pressure policy, was the last effort by the U.S. government to halt Iran’s growing influence in the region. Although this policy has hit Iran’s economy hard, it has not been able to change the country’s ambitious regional and military policies yet. As such, the newfound strategic cooperation between China and Iran will further undermine U.S. 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 Iran’s 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. Iran now accuses India of delaying its investments under U.S. pressure and has dismissed India from the project.

While Iranian officials have refused to link India’s removal from Chabahar-Zahedan project to the new 25-year deal with China, it seems that India’s close ties to Washington led to this decision. Replacing India with China in such a strategic project will alter the balance of power in South Asia to the detriment of New Delhi. China now has the chance to connect Chabahar Port to Gwadar in Pakistan, which is a critical hub in the BRI program.

Regardless of what Washington thinks, the new China-Iran relationship will ultimately undermine India’s interests in the region, particularly if Pakistan gets on board. The implementation of Iran’s 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 country’s 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, and also enables Tehran to close the Strait of Hormuz when needed.

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 States’ dominant 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 U.S. power.

Meanwhile, in addition to ensuring its survival, 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 region’s security landscape by promoting stability through the Chinese approach of developmental peace.


Before, China was only an East Asia regional power with some power projection in South Asia. Now we have some power projection in the Middle East too.
 

Feng Leng

SENIOR MEMBER
Aug 3, 2017
3,867
-14
9,681
Country
China
Location
China
Trump Has Pushed Iran Into China’s Arms

Hard-liners in Tehran have called for closer ties to China for years. The U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement gave them what they wanted.

When Hassan Rouhani announced in the run-up to the 2013 presidential elections that it would be better and easier to negotiate with the United States as the “headman of the village,” it was hard to imagine at the time that seven years into his presidency, ties with the United States would have been virtually cut off and he would be negotiating a 25-year accord with China.

Rouhani is considered a moderate in Iran, and he won the 2013 race promising to de-escalate tensions with the West, standing in sharp contrast to his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who favored shifting Iran toward China.

This shift brings to public view a rivalry inside the country between Western-minded reformists and pro-China hard-liners, a clash that has been ongoing since the 1979 revolution.

The ascendance of one faction over the other at various points has had a significant impact on the direction of Iranian politics. Reformist President Mohammad Khatami’s government (from 1997 to 2005) improved its ties with European countries within the framework of his “constructive interaction” doctrine, but Ahmadinejad (who was president from 2005 to 2013), his immediate successor, chose to focus his foreign policy on building closer ties with Russia and China. At the end of Ahmadinejad’s term, as international sanctions were bringing the Iranian economy to its knees, the public wanted again to pivot back toward the West.

Rouhani tapped into this feeling and won the presidency by promising to solve the issues surrounding international sanctions and Iran’s nuclear program. He put all his political capital into negotiating with the West over the nuclear program, which eventually produced the landmark 2015 deal that put strict limits on Iran’s nuclear capabilities in return for lifting sanctions and revoking all anti-Iran U.N. Security Council resolutions.

But Rouhani’s hard-line opponents harshly criticized him for what they called his “pivot to the West,” saying that he had unnecessarily ignored the East. Pro-Eastern sentiment in Iran is rooted in two major modes of thinking. On the one hand, hard-line groups prefer an authoritarian style of government similar to that of China and Russia, and they have little interest in the West’s democratic ways. On the other, many groups in Iran have extensive trade relations with China and were concerned that those ties could be disrupted if Iran began to cultivate economic ties with European and U.S. companies.

These were the forces Rouhani had to balance as he negotiated with the West, and while former U.S. President Barack Obama was in office, they mostly worked in his favor.

But the hard-line approach taken by U.S. President Donald Trump has dashed the hopes of the Rouhani administration. When Trump announced in May 2018 that the United States would withdraw from the nuclear deal, he effectively scuppered the gains made by Rouhani and his allies and gave renewed relevancy to the country’s hard-liners. Now, after more than two years of crippling economic pressure, Rouhani seems to have resolved that the only way to save Iran is to follow the hard-liners’ demands and pivot to the East.

On June 21, a draft 25-year agreement between Iran and China was approved by the Iranian cabinet. Details about the agreement have not been made public, and there has been much speculation about its contents. But growing public concern over the deal has forced senior officials to comment on the deal. While it is officially billed as an economic partnership, there is speculation that there will be a military component.

Any defense agreements would deepen a growing security partnership between Tehran and Beijing in the years since Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal. Iran conducted joint military exercises with China and Russia in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman in December, and there have been some unconfirmed reports of Chinese troops in Iran. It was also rumored that the recent agreement could grant China access to the island of Kish in the Persian Gulf.

According to one widely cited report during the negotiations in September, China has agreed to invest $280 billion to develop Iran’s oil, gas, and petrochemicals sectors. There will also be another $120 billion investment in upgrading Iran’s transport and manufacturing infrastructure. According to the report, China will retain extraordinary influence over companies in these sectors, and Chinese security personnel will be permitted to protect Beijing’s economic interests in Iran.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed those reports on July 16, saying, “We have not given and will not give away even an inch of Iranian soil. We will not grant China or any other country the exclusive right to use a single meter of Iranian territory.”

Zarif dismissed most of the other reported stipulations. He rejected the notion of a handover of Iranian islands in the Persian Gulf, a monopoly on the sale of oil at low prices to China, and the deployment of Chinese armed forces to Iran.

Although the agreement has not yet been ratified by the two governments, it is a major signal that reformists like Rouhani have lost the initiative in Tehran, and their previously successful attempt to align Iran more closely with the West is now dead. The hard-liners have used the occasion of Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal to cultivate closer security, economic, and political ties with China.

The future does not bode well for the reformist camp. The end of Washington’s involvement in the nuclear deal, coupled with the recent agreement with China, is largely a vindication of the hard-liners’ pro-Eastern tilt, and reformists such as Rouhani will pay the price politically in future elections, especially if the relationship with China saves the Iranian economy.

At the apex of the Cold War, when Iran was still considered an integral part of the Western bloc, Tehran still maintained good economic relations with the Soviet Union as a way of balancing great-power competition in the region. Even after the 1979 revolution and the outburst of anti-U.S. sentiment that followed, the government in Tehran always tried to maintain a balance between East and West, to the long-term benefit of the regime. The Trump administration’s hard-line approach to Iran has now forced the regime to pick a side, and Iranian leaders have determined that choosing China is the only viable option left.
 

Users Who Are Viewing This Thread (Total: 1, Members: 0, Guests: 1)


Top Bottom