By Aram Mirzaei for the Saker blog
The proposed 25-year deal between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China, titled “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between I.R. Iran and P.R. China” has been heavily discussed recently. While not all details in the deal are clear, it has been described by Iranian and Chinese officials as specifying the roadmap of developing and deepening Tehran-Beijing ties in “Political”, “Executive Cooperation”, “Human and Cultural”, “Judiciary, Security and Defence”, and “Regional and International” domains.
It remains unclear when such a deal will be formally clinched. But Iran’s government says the two sides have so far finalized at least 75 percent of the draft version of the pact. Once concluded, the text of the deal will be discussed for final approval in Iran’s Parliament. However, many lawmakers are already critical of the government for not consulting the deal before entering into negotiations with China.
What has so far been made public is that the 25-year cooperation roadmap will cover economy, security and military areas. Iran will reportedly supply the PRC (People’s Republic of China) with oil for 25 years. In return, China will invest heavily in Iran’s infrastructure as well as banking and telecommunications sectors, amounting to some 400 billion dollars. Reactions, both inside and outside Iran have been mixed. Some inside Iran have criticized the deal since they believe that the Islamic Republic has negotiated it from a position of weakness, in order to escape the failing JCPOA deal and its aftermath – Washington’s maximum pressure campaign. Supporters of the deal argue that the deal is a political victory against what Beijing and Tehran have identified as a common opponent.
Naturally, the US State Department and anti-Iran Farsi media outlets based outside Iran have denounced the possible deal without even knowing all the details. The US State Department went on to issue tweets in Farsi, comparing the potential Iran-China accord to the 1828 Treaty of Turkmenchay which was a peace treaty between Qajar Iran and the Russian Empire. By the treaty, Iran had to cede to Russia control of most of its areas in the South Caucasus.
As per usual, social media is the main tool they use for their propaganda. Certain think tanks led by Western governments, particularly the United States spread rumours and lies. For instance, they have created various hashtags like “No to Iran Sellout!” This has been picked up by Iranian analysts too:
“Based on our monitoring of social media, we spotted the first analyses on the Iran-China cooperation plan in US media. What the mainly US media claim is reproduced in social media, particularly Twitter. Those who are active in cyberspace and social media include users affiliated with the Zionist regime, users affiliated with the Mujahideen Khalq Organization as they are supposed to insinuate wrong interpretations into public minds in Persian language. MKO agents based in Albania and benefiting from Western funding are involved. The Zionist regime and Saudi Arabia are also cooperating by spending money and offering human resources. From as early on as 1995, Iran has been aware of the importance of the Beijing- Tehran axis as a counterweight to the U.S.-led global order. Iran and China share a desire to engage in revisionist regional moves without wanting to start a large-scale war; to put an end to US imperialism and military supremacy in the Persian Gulf region. It is a valid question however, whether this will not lead to a Chinese show of military might in the region.
Our ties with some nations may be focused on a single aspect like agriculture, culture and energy. But with China, we have reached the conclusion that we can cooperate in academic, cultural and IT and economic sectors. And regarding the strategic aspects, our ties with some countries may be periodic. But the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China eye long-term cooperation. “ Hamed Vafai, China Affairs Analyst
The Iranians outside of Iran who oppose the deal are often pro-Western and echo the same lies spewed by Washington – for example when they claim that Iran has sold its soil to China, offering Beijing Iran’s Kish Island as a military base and so on. The sheer hypocrisy by Pro-US Iranians is mind-boggling. The things they accuse the Islamic Republic of doing for China are the same things their beloved “King” did for the US, if not even more. I don’t need to go into detail over how subservient the Iranian monarchy was to Washington.
Tehran has made it clear that this deal is to protect the Iranian economy from US sanctions, and that it will not cede any part of its soil to China. Tehran rejected the criticism saying is it aimed at appeasing the enemies of the Islamic Republic. “Unfortunately, a destructive line of propaganda has been initiated and directed from outside Iran against the expansion of Iran’s relations with neighbors and especially (with) China and Russia,” Iranian president’s chief of staff, Mahmoud Vaezi, said last week.
The Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, Seyed Abbas Mousavi dismissed unfounded claims of Iranian islands in the Persian Gulf being leased out to China, oil sold at exclusively low prices, or the deployment of Chinese armed forces in the Gulf, an invading force in Iranian waters that is. He said such claims were too ridiculous to even merit a denial. Apparently the Chinese response to the allegations was not so different.
So what’s in it for the parties involved?
There is no doubt that Washington’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and the subsequent sanctions imposed by Washington has left the Iranian economy in a very difficult position, especially since the EU has betrayed the deal as well. Part of the blame has been placed on the Rouhani government, which I believe to be wrong. It is counterproductive to assume that the Islamic Republic’s commitment to the JCPOA triggered the crisis since the pressure on Iran’s economy was no less severe before the JCPOA.
The trade deal itself is one of necessity as the West has failed to live up to their promises and proven once and for all that they can never be trusted. Not only have they reneged on their commitments, but they also continue to wage psychological warfare on Iran through propaganda and lies. Bearing in mind that Washington has forbidden many countries from doing deals with Tehran, I see no reason to be critical of this potential deal with the PRC as of yet. This is about the Islamic Republic’s very survival, something that the IRGC and the top leadership in Tehran have also recognized – which explains why they have remained so silent about it.
The potential partnership offers Iran a way out of the harsh US sanctions. For Iran this would translate into an injection of approximately 280 billion dollars for its energy sector and 120 billion dollars for manufacturing and transport infrastructure. In return for a discounted oil-flow to China and preferential Chinese access to various sectors of the Iranian economy, Iran would have its infrastructure given a much needed boost. The deal includes 100 projects which defy US unilateral sanctions against Iran.
China is the only remaining official buyer of Iranian oil and has strongly opposed Washington’s sanctions. It defies the US also economically together with Russia and Iran, as the three have attempted to replace the US dollar in their dealings, an act that inspired Pakistan and may have other regional states follow. Why wouldn’t the Islamic Republic with its free-falling rial want China as a potential shield against US sanctions and even motions at the UN Security Council? What other options does Iran have? To negotiate a new JCPOA with Washington, one which the US would at any time once more renege on? Besides, it should be known to all by now that the nuclear issue is not really why Washington is sanctioning the Islamic Republic.
The PRC is viewed in the West as a threat both because of its rising economic power, and more recently because of its potential political power, poised to challenge Washington’s hegemony. Crude accusations of Chinese imperialism and false expressions of “worry” for poor Asian and African countries aside, the West is worried because China’s entry into the Middle East would enhance Beijing’s position not only in West Asia, but in Central Asia and the Caucasus as well. For China, Iran could very well be a gateway into the Middle East, as it has historically also been. Iran has connections in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon where China has up until recently been absent, and their partnership could flourish as Iraq and Syria will rebuild their countries after decades of US imposed wars. The Islamic Republic can introduce lucrative projects to the Chinese who may not know the region quite well.
All this gives Washington clear reason to be annoyed since it would make the US sanctions rather useless. But Washington also knows that the implications of this potential deal are far greater than just helping Iran.
Washington knows that its position in the Middle East as the sole dominant power alongside Israel is being challenged by Russia, Iran and now China as well. The Zionist axis has lost the struggle for Syria and is desperately clinging onto the oil fields in the eastern parts of the country, they have lost in Iraq as Baghdad wants them out, and they will lose elsewhere too. Even Turkey – a NATO ally – is a loose cannon that Washington cannot trust, especially since Ankara has repeatedly refused to follow Washington’s orders. This leaves Washington with the vassal reactionary monarchies in the Persian Gulf and Israel as the only reliable “friends” of Washington’s. The birth of an alliance/united front with a common cause against the Zionist empire could potentially lead to an East-West divide situation not so different from the Cold War in Europe.
Personally, I welcome it. A bipolar balance in the region would deter Washington further from regime change attempts. The only reason for Washington’s audacity to start the Syrian and Iraqi wars were because of the power vacuum left after the dissolution of the Soviet Union – without a counter-weight against it, Washington has been free to do as it pleases in the region for the past 3 decades.
Necessity will drive China and Iran to deepen relations. Both share grievances against the US and its vassals, both are being threatened in their own regions by Washington and together with the Russian Federation, they can finally bring back a balance of power in the world. When it is all said and done, let’s see what these two ancient Asian cultures can achieve together.