China and Iran: 25-Year Agreement
A 25-year China-Iranian strategic partnership has been on the cards for some time. Last August, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif paid a visit to his Chinese counterpart Wang Li to forge a new agreement that builds upon a previous deal that was signed in 2016. Oilprice.com managed to uncover many of the secret elements of the pact at the time. According to the publication’s secret sources, the Iranian Petroleum Ministry confirmed that the deal has been signed and that Beijing has added in a new military element, with substantial global security implications.
It is a Continuation of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiative
One element of the first five-year period of the new 25-year pact is that China will invest $280 billion in developing Iran’s oil, gas and petrochemicals industries. There will be another $120 billion of investment for upgrading Iran’s transport and manufacturing infrastructure. Furthermore, Chinese businesses will be provided with the first option to bid on any new gas, oil and petrochemicals projects in Iran.
The new deal also represents a continuation of China’s ‘One Belt, One Road (OBOR)’ geopolitical project as Beijing will be involved in building Iran’s vital infrastructure. Chinese manufacturing companies will build factories using cheap labor in Iran to manufacture products that can access Western markets via new transport links created by China.
Cooperation Between Iran and China will be Extended
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has agreed to the extension of new military elements that were proposed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that will involve complete aerial and navy cooperation between Tehran and Beijing, with Moscow taking a central role. These deployments will be accompanied by the launch of Chinese and Russian electronic warfare capabilities originally designed to neutralize NATO’s C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) systems.
While the rest of the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, the 25-year agreement is a threat to the Trump administration and America’s post-WW2 hegemony for many reasons. It is a continuation of the OBOR initiative which is designed to take advantage of Beijing’s central position along the Eurasian rimland. For a long time now, China has been building up its maritime forces in East Asia and the South China Sea. The 25-year deal has extended China’s influence in the Middle East.
As The Diplomat argues, China’s geopolitical partnership with Iran is strategically important to both countries. Thanks to its large oil and gas reserves, Tehran could help Beijing withstand an American attack on its Sea Lines of Communication. The continued existence of a strong regime in the heart of the Middle East thwarts Washington’s ambitions of maintaining its hegemony in the Middle East.
Trump Finds Himself Increasingly Isolated
The 25-year agreement also challenges the Trump administration’s policy of ending the 2015 Iran Deal that Barack Obama, the current US President’s predecessor, signed. Both China and Russia are members of the UN Security Council and Beijing is using its membership of this body to call on Washington to end its sanctions against Tehran. Zhang Jun, China’s permanent UN representative, provided the Security Council with a statement that urged America to stop its “illegal unilateral sanctions” on Iran and to voice his opposition to the US’s plea that the arms embargo on Iran be extended beyond October.
As the EU continues to trade with Iran, Trump has no allies left who are willing to support his stance on the Iran deal. It is unclear whether Beijing and Moscow would support a lack of sanctions in exchange for Tehran surrendering its nuclear program, but the 25-year pact means both China and Russia have a vested interest in preventing the US and NATO from undermining their Middle Eastern ally. This makes it harder for all sides to revise the terms of the 2015 Iran deal.
It would be wise for the Trump administration not to underestimate the impact of this 25-year strategic partnership because its attention is focused elsewhere.