Iran-China deal a blow for Tehran regime
The Iranian authorities and the country’s state-owned newspapers have attempted to portray the deal that was signed with China last week as a victory for Tehran.
The 25-year comprehensive cooperation agreement was extremely controversial in Iran when it was first proposed. But, once Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei signaled his approval of the deal, President Hassan Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Javad Zarif went ahead and sealed it.
There are several reasons why Iran made such a deal with China. First of all, the Iranian regime is attempting to undermine US national security interests in the Middle East, pressure Washington into pursuing appeasement policies with Tehran, and push it into rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal. China is also more than happy to counter US influence in the region. As Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a meeting with regards to Iran-China bilateral cooperation: “China has always attached great importance to this issue and has tried to make this issue a priority in its relations with Iran, despite some issues … China has always opposed the US extravagance and unilateral sanctions and has shown its opposition in the international arena.”
Secondly, the Iranian regime is trying to show to its base and its rivals that it has a powerful ally in China, which is the second-largest economy in the world, and that Tehran is not, and never will be, isolated in the region. It feels this is necessary because the US pressure on Iran, as well as the recently formed alliances in the Middle East to confront the regime, have alarmed Tehran. Defense Minister Amir Hatami last month warned of the rising opposition to Iran in the region. He said: “Regional developments like the change of the Iraqi government, the ‘assassination’ of Qassem Soleimani (the Quds Force commander) and Mohsen Fakhrizadeh (the father of Iran’s nuclear weapons project), as well as recent protests in Lebanon and Iraq, and recent incidents in Syria, are taking place to overcome Iran.”
Third, the theocratic establishment is in a very difficult situation financially. The regime was hoping that, when Joe Biden became US president, he would immediately lift the pressure against Tehran, reverse the previous administration’s policy, rejoin the nuclear deal, and lift all sanctions against Iran.
Iran will become dependent on China as a result of this agreement, as it grants Beijing significant rights over the nation’s resources.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
The regime is desperate for cash in order to sustain its power and network of militia groups in the region. Tehran’s oil exports have shrunk from nearly 2.5 million barrels per day in April 2018, with a low of 100,000 at one point. Iran is facing one of the worst budget deficits in its four-decade history of being in power, as it is thought to be overspending by about $200 million per week. This deficit will increase inflation and further devalue the currency.
The decrease in Iran’s revenues directly impacts the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its affiliates, the Office of the Supreme Leader, and the regime’s associates, who control considerable parts of the economy and financial systems. Iran’s currency, the rial, has also plunged in value, making it one of the least-valued national currencies in the world and pushing the Iranian authorities to agree to remove four zeros from it. Iran’s newspapers have been warning of potential economic collapse. The state-run Mardom Salari daily last year wrote: “We have an extremely failed and fallen economy. The main reason is the currency shock and the plundering of the economy by semi-private companies and banks. Sanctions have become an excuse for some people to plunder the country. We suffer from both foreign and domestic sanctions and those who profit from this situation.”
Nevertheless, it is important to point out that, not only will the deal with China not save Iran, but it is also a blow to the regime. Iran, which prides itself on its independence from world powers, will become dependent on China as a result of this agreement, as it grants Beijing significant rights over the nation’s resources. Even the Fars News Agency was alarmed, reportedly writing: “Countries must be far-sighted so that, in the future, these agreements do not lead to Iran’s dependence on China because, according to the predictions, this country is moving toward the world power with great speed. The influence of such a country is not allowed in an Islamic country.”
In a nutshell, Iran’s deal with China will not save the regime economically or politically. Instead, it is a blow to Tehran as it will make the country dependent on Beijing.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh