Why we should worry about Iran’s ties to China
The Iranian regime has been improving its ties with China on several fronts, which could pose a threat to the region.
China and Iran announced, in January 2022, the launch of the implementation of a comprehensive cooperation plan between the two nations after the Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian visited China and met the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The “comprehensive cooperation” plan refers to the 25-year deal that was reached between Tehran and Beijing.
Economically, militarily and strategically speaking, this a win-win deal for both China and Iran. The agreement grants China significant rights over the Iranian nation’s resources. One of its terms is that China will invest nearly $400 billion in Iran’s oil, gas and petrochemicals industries. In return, China will have priority to bid on any new project in Iran that is linked to these sectors. China will also receive a 12 percent discount and can delay payments by up to two years. China will also be able to pay in any currency it chooses. It is also estimated that, in total, China will receive discounts of nearly 32 percent.
This will assist the Iranian regime in skirting US sanctions, gaining access to funds, empowering its militia and terror groups in the region and continuing to advance its nuclear program. Iran has also become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. After many years of Iran trying to become a full member of the organization, SCO members agreed in September 2021 to elevate Iran’s status from an observer to a full member despite the Financial Action Task Force — the global financial watchdog — placing Tehran on its terrorism financing blacklist.
As Iran increasingly benefits from China economically, it will have less incentive to change its destructive behavior in the region or yield to Washington’s pressure.
For example, the US recently urged China to cut its oil imports from Iran, and one senior US official said: “We have used our sanctions authorities to respond to Iranian sanctions evasion, including those doing business with China, and will continue to do so if necessary. However, we have been approaching this diplomatically with the Chinese as part of our dialogue on Iran policy and think that, in general, this is a more effective path forward to address our concerns.”
As Iran increasingly benefits from China economically, it will have less incentive to change its destructive behavior in the region.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
However, China sided with the Tehran regime and rejected cutting its oil imports from Iran and complying with the US sanctions. China also demanded that the US remove its “long-arm jurisdiction” with China’s Foreign Ministry, responding: “We firmly oppose any unilateral sanction, and urge the US to remove the so-called ‘long-arm jurisdiction’ over third-party entities and individuals as soon as possible.”
One part of the agreement appears to have a significant military dimension: China will deploy 5,000 members of its security forces on the ground in Iran. These concessions are unprecedented in the history of the Islamic Republic. The deal is a clear win for China; the $400 billion will be invested over 25 years, which is a small amount for the second-largest economy in the world. China will also have full authority over Iran’s islands, gain access to Iran’s oil at a highly discounted rate and increase its influence and presence in almost every sector of Iranian industry, including telecommunications, energy, ports, railways and banking. China, incidentally, is the world’s largest importer of oil.
In addition, the Iranian regime will likely step up its acquisition of advanced weaponry from China since the arms embargo on Tehran was lifted last year with the support of Beijing. It is also expected that Tehran will likely seek to use Chinese military technology to manufacture more advanced submarines, missiles and warships. Iran’s armed forces are planning to hold a joint naval exercise with China and Russia this year.
As Iran-China ties grow, the Iranian regime has also become more empowered in its nuclear defiance. China, for instance, has been using the same line of argument that the Iranian leaders resort to when it comes to the nuclear deal. Even though the Islamic Republic is violating all ideals of the JCPOA and stonewalling the nuclear talks, Beijing is blaming the US. Instead of holding Iran accountable, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson put the onus on the US: “As the one that started the new round of tensions in the Iranian nuclear situation, the US should redress its wrong policy of maximum pressure on Iran, lift all illegal sanctions on Iran and measures of long-arm jurisdiction on third parties, and work to resume negotiations and achieve outcomes at an early date.”
In summary, the Iranian regime’s growing ties with China on military, strategic and economic issues pose a grave and significant threat to the Middle East.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist.