Why The New Iran-China Strategic Pact Threatens The West

Sino-Iranian relations were officially established in 1971, but the contacts between the two countries actually date back to 200 BC or even earlier. In fact, the Silk Road has been the focal point where Chinese and Iranians carried out their cultural, political and economic exchanges for centuries. Even though this partnership went through fluctuating moments, […]

Sino-Iranian relations were officially established in 1971, but the contacts between the two countries actually date back to 200 BC or even earlier. In fact, the Silk Road has been the focal point where Chinese and Iranians carried out their cultural, political and economic exchanges for centuries. Even though this partnership went through fluctuating moments, it seems now to have all the assets to become so strong to the point of being threatening for the West. In 1997, Tehran and Beijing lived a moment of reciprocal disengagement. Bill Clinton, then U.S. President, decided to monitor both nuclear and military cooperation that China had with Iran through the so called Dual Containment Policy. In addition, some major events such as the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis led China to look for a less tense climate with Washington, at the expense of its precious connection with Iran. Nowadays the situation is completely reversed, and the collaboration between these states could significantly change geopolitics of both Asia and the Middle East.
The new ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’ aims to reach deeper ties in various fields, including culture, economy, health, security and defense. More specifically, the plan entails massive investments directed to railways, the environment and agriculture, mutual exchange of know-how and the expansion of ports. As clearly showed in Iran’s recent statements, working on these domains is the key to improve areas that contribute to peace and stability in this corner of the globe. While the world is questioning whether the outcomes of this partnership will be positive or not, it is worth considering the factors that brought Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Xi Jinping closer.
Firstly, since Donald Trump took office at the White House, the tycoon’s administration pursued the idea of ‘maximum pressure’ against Iran relentlessly, which mainly consisted of sanctions and the threats of military attacks. This strategy reached its peak with the U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018, which consistently reduced Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear weapons. Regardless of this, the President considered that the agreement failed to protect America’s national security interests. But this aggressive approach resulted in Iran to see China as a shelter. Secondly, the two sides are also related by the same vision regarding integrity and national sovereignty. Iran stands for the One-China policy, and the People’s Republic supports Iran’s increasing role in regional and international affairs. For this reason, Head of States are respectively planning to fight extremism and separatism, as well as illegal border crossing. Moreover, taking into account U.S. sanctions of European trade with Iran, the latter sees China as the one that can challenge the status quo established by the United States in terms of its economic dominance, thus finding protection against U.S. pressure. Similarly, Iran’s position could also favor the Chinese Road Belt Initiative (BRI). In this frame, Iran can gain visibility in the West, since states will inevitably debate their economic ties with China, therefore enabling Iran to be more in the spotlight for future negotiations with Europe.
Despite being promising, China has be to careful with this new 25-years deal. Reinforcing ties with Iran can surely bring benefits but, on the other hand, concerns of Israel, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, which are notoriously solid economic partners in the Middle East, will be unavoidable. Coupled with the fact that the U.S. don’t want to lost influence in the Middle East, especially in strategic points such as in the Persian Gulf, the consequences of the Iranian-Chinese negotiation appear to be of paramount importance for the future equilibrium in the region. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already expressed his worries about the Iranian-Chinese agreement, adding that Iran’s proximity to China and potential easy access to its resources could enhance the risk of terrorism. Few details are available right now,  and it is not clear yet when the deal will exactly come into force. But only its implementation will reveal how far D.C. can go in order to maintain its global prestige, despite the fact that the Oval Office will be conquered by a Republican or by a Democrat.

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