THE China-Iran strategic deal that has recently taken effect is more than just a long-term bilateral agreement between Beijing and Tehran. It is also a powerful symbolic gesture between the two states designed to send a signal to the US-led Western bloc. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian recently announced that the deal had entered the implementation stage after a visit to China. The agreement, which focuses on economic, military as well as security matters, was signed in March of last year during the term of Hassan Rouhani. The latest developments are but an endorsement by the government of conservative President Ebrahim Raisi, indicating that the deal has entered the practical phase. For Iran, which is fighting to break the economic and political isolation imposed on it by the US and its allies, the deal appears to be a lifeline. Tehran has already been selling discounted oil to Beijing despite American sanctions. The comprehensive partnership indicates that both countries are willing to deepen their cooperation despite the displeasure of Washington. China has also defended Iran at the ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi saying his country supports Iran’s “logical” position at the crucial talks, and adding that China hopes to see “the interests of the Iranian people secured”.
Beyond the bilateral sphere, the China-Iran partnership is a demonstration of cooperation between the loosely linked anti-American bloc, which also prominently features Russia. While the US and Iran have had no diplomatic relations since the events of 1979, the Sino-American relationship has also deteriorated considerably, with the US establishment considering the People’s Republic a major threat. Iran needs to tread carefully in this tricky game of bloc politics. While it definitely needs an economic lifeline to break the stranglehold of Western sanctions, deepening ties with Beijing is likely to win Tehran few friends in the West. Moreover, the US and Europe must give Iran a fair deal and lift sanctions if they are serious about mending fences with Tehran.
Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2022