China-Iran ties with Russian participation

The three-day state visit by Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi to China on February 14-16 is a landmark event affecting regional politics and international security. The red carpet welcome accorded to Raisi signified the high importance attached by Beijing to the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Iran in the prevailing international milieu, writes Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer M.K. Bhadrakumar.

The Chinese Communist Party newspaper ‘Global Times’ went on to make a profound statement: “Iran’s ‘Look to the East’ policy meant the transition from its policy of negative balancing and non-alignment to building alliances with non-western world powers that have similar political structures to Iran, such as Russia and China.”

“Under Washington’s moves, the international structure is being divided and restructured, with the vicious trend of forming blocs and camps again emerging, which puts the non-Western world in a difficult situation and once again faces historical choices. The existing US-led international system has designs to bully and exploit developing countries and emerging countries. Now Washington still thinks that it is not convenient enough, that the interests of developing countries have increased in weight, and wants to reconstruct a new international system with a stronger tendency, which is undoubtedly a major challenge for the non-Western world and needs to be resisted by forming a joint effort.” This compelling thought appeared in the opening statement of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the meeting with Raisi at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing when he said that “amid the profound changes in the international situation, China and Iran have constantly consolidated their strategic mutual trust and steadily advanced pragmatic co­operation.

Raisi’s visit will accelerate the implementation of the 25-year agreement signed in 2021 between Iran and China. The program, including energy, trade and infrastructure, faced obstacles due to the pandemic and the escalation of US sanctions. But things are on the cusp of change. China watches Russian stealing a march on it, although the latter’s 25-year agreement with Iran is still a work in progress.

However, what is yet to sink in is that a major outcome of the confrontation between Russia and the NATO countries is that Iran is set to break through the rings of western containment through the past four decades since the 1979 revolution. Beijing sees that Russia is providing strategic depth for Iran in a win-win engagement.

Iran and Russia have taken a significant step towards linking their banking infrastructures amid Western sanctions. After years of work, the two countries have managed to connect Iran’s SEPAM national financial messaging service to Russia’s Financial Messaging System of the Bank of Russia (SPFS), the Russian equivalent of SWIFT, that aims to link with other major powers like China and India. The tie-up signifies that Moscow today has the political will to forge ahead with an optimal partnership with Iran, as they also pursue greater use of their national currencies in trade.

Moreover, Russia and Iran are creating a firewall to sequester their defence cooperation from the prying eyes of the US. Moscow is about to transfer cutting-edge military technology to Tehran, including the famous Su-35 multipurpose 4+ generation fighter jets as part of a $3 billion arms deal that also includes two S-400 air defence systems.

Beijing understands that the confrontation between Russia and the US is working to the advantage of two of its key partners to break out of the Western stranglehold of sanctions and realise their full potential as regional powers — North Korea and Iran — which has profound implications for the power dynamic in the Asia-Pacific and West Asia.

Fortuitously, the Gulf states themselves are decoupling from the US-Israeli strategy to whip up anti-Iran frenzy. Meanwhile, Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia are steadily improving and the latter is developing diversified external relations as well with accent on partnerships with China and Russia. The growing similarity lately in the respective diplomatic trajectories of Iran and Saudi Arabia would have a calming effect incrementally on Gulf security and eliminates the scope for US interference in the GCC interaction with China (and Russia).

China-Iran relationship is entering interesting times.

International Affairs