Iran–China 25 year Cooperation Agreement: An Updated Chinese Strategy toward the Middle East

China and Iran recently signed a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement worth $ 400 billion over 25 years. This agreement will have a great positive impact on the Belt and Road Initiative. China will be a pivotal ally of a key actor in the Middle East with a major influence on Eurasian geopolitics in terms of Iran’s geostrategic location and its richness in natural resources. China and Iran have been friends for decades because of the unfair US policy and the ideological and political divergence with most of the Western states. This step will increase Chinese influence in the region, which may force the United States to reconsider its strategy towards the Middle East. International negotiations with the Iranian administration may lead to reactivating the nuclear agreement, coinciding with the signing of the Sino-Iranian deal. Moreover, Iranian-Saudi talks are being held with Iraqi mediation to restore diplomatic relations. Therefore, Iran is in a position of strength, which may benefit China’s foreign policy in the region.

China has an advanced position in Eurasia through its alliance with Russia and Iran. The recent Sino-Iranian deal will contribute to the success of the Belt and Road Initiative and facilitates China’s strategic expansion. The Belt and Road Initiative dates back to September 2013 when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Kazakhstan, and announced the initiative from Nazarbayev University of Astana, when he delivered his famous speech titled “Promote Friendship between Our Peoples and Work Together to Create a Bright Future”. Among his words, “To forge closer economic ties, deepen cooperation and expand space for development in the Eurasian region, we should take an innovative approach and join hands in building an ‘economic belt along the Silk Road’. We may start with work in individual areas and link them up over time to cover the whole region”. With these words, the Chinese president introduced the concept of Belt and Road, or the Silk Road Economic Belt (丝绸之路经济带) to the world.

The 25-Year China-Iran Strategic Cooperation Agreement will be a means to further joint military cooperation, to intensify economic exchanges, and to transform political relations into an unbreakable strategic alliance. China will make use of Iran’s vital facilities and access vast amounts of natural resources to meet its growing needs after the announcement of the Belt and Road Initiative. The visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Arab leaders in the Gulf and then the signing of the mega-deal with Iran indicate a new Chinese mentality in the Middle East. This strategic Chinese move came right after the US-China talks in Alaska, which was not satisfactory to China. Some scholars point out that the Middle East is the arena of intense future competition between the US and China. It is a struggle outside national borders for access to energy sources.

China-Russia-Iran is the most powerful trio in the region and the backbone of Eurasia. There are several agreements between China and other countries, including the nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia signed at the beginning of the 21st century. The recent Sino-Iranian agreement is part of a series of agreements that China has concluded with its allies to enhance its international standing. Chinese-Iranian cooperation has never stopped. This agreement will raise the bilateral relationship and make China the preferred partner for Iran, noting that Iran has a strong army, a strategic geographic location and enormous natural resources. All these elements are attractive to China and other countries that aspire to a privileged position in the Middle East.

The US has joined Australia, Japan and India at the first meeting of Quad leaders, hosted via video-link from the White House. President Biden’s India-Pacific policy will depend heavily on this meeting, which is an undeclared alliance to halt or impede Chinese progress. Recently, Sino-European relations have been strained by the sanctions policy and the Western campaign against China under the banner of violating human rights in Xinjiang (Uyghur Autonomous Region). I think heavily that policy of previous US administrations toward Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and others may not work with China, because it possess the second largest economy after the US, a well-developed army, a massive human mass, as well as an extensive network of alliances. The trade war and the permanent political skirmishes between China and the West will have a negative impact on the international economy. Both the US and China have huge business with most of the international economic blocs, including the Middle East and specifically the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, so China is unlikely to cancel the US presence in the region and it is impossible for the US to deter China from its progress.

Iran will be more comfortable in dealing with its eastern neighbors, so the latest agreement is more likely to consolidate Iran’s integration with the Eurasian periphery. However, if the nuclear agreement turns into a reality, the implementation of the Sino-Iranian deal may partially falter. The Iranian leadership has carefully considered the Sino-Iranian agreement before reaching a decision since the idea was floated in 2016. The Sino-Iranian strategic agreement may benefit the West in the event that the economic sanctions on Iran are lifted and a nuclear agreement is reached, which could establishes Sino-European cooperation with Iran.

The Sino-Iranian agreement will reinforce the resilience of the anti-imperialist eastern axis. The joint military, economic and political cooperation in the last decade between China, Russia and Iran is a source of concern to the US and may threaten its international interests. The Sino-Iranian deal is a blow to the West at a time of international economic downturn as a result of COVID-19. Therefore, the Biden administration is rushing to return to the agreement with Iran, stopping the wars in Yemen and elsewhere, and withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan. These unprecedented strategic decisions indicate a state of confusion for the US, which paves the way for a new world order.

Mohamad Zreik
Mohamad Zreik
Mohamad Zreik is an independent researcher, doctor of international relations. His areas of research interests are related to the Foreign Policy of China, Belt and Road Initiative, Middle Eastern Studies, China-Arab relations, East Asian Affairs, Geopolitics of Eurasia, and Political Economy. Mohamad has many studies and articles published in high ranked journals and well-known international newspapers. His writings have been translated into many languages, including French, Arabic, Spanish, German, Albanian, Russian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, etc.