Iranian regime left feeling perplexed by China
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Saudi Arabia received an intense backlash from Iranians, but the most prominent reaction by Iranians and government officials was to the visit of China’s deputy prime minister to Tehran last Tuesday. This article will review how Iranian media outlets covered this visit.
Jomhouri-e Eslami newspaper mentioned that China’s support for the Gulf states, particularly when it came to the UAE’s claim on three islands — Abu Musa, Lesser Tunb and Greater Tunb — received scathing criticism from Iranian politicians and experts. Iranians seriously asked China’s government to apologize and change its position. However, Beijing did not change its position during the visit of its deputy prime minister.
Donyaye-Sanat said that an Iranian official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, when explaining the purpose of the visit, said that Iran had prepared for the visit a long time ago, adding that it had nothing to do with the latest developments — referring to the Chinese president’s visit to Riyadh.
Another Iranian newspaper, Mardom Salari, said that, when the visit of China’s deputy prime minister was announced, it was expected that Iranian government officials would take a stronger stance on the positions adopted by China’s president during his visit to Saudi Arabia. However, these expectations were mere pipe dreams, the newspaper added. Further, it argued that the Iranian government adopted a lackluster position on China when it called the “summoning” of the ambassador to Tehran as a “meeting,” unlike its commonly used rhetoric with the diplomatic representatives of other countries.
As for Shargh newspaper, the deputy prime minister’s visit was a Chinese gesture to ease Iran’s discontent; and it could be viewed as a good move from China after Xi’s trip to Saudi Arabia — which stirred criticism in Tehran.
Ebtekar newspaper said that China had tilted toward the Arab countries because of Iran’s isolation. Beijing, according to Ebtekar, was no longer motivated to entrench its relations with Iran, given the fact that the nuclear deal has not yet been revived. With another interpretation, Etemad newspaper argued that the new Chinese approach aims to expand “China’s regime” across the region and the world; and it won’t hesitate to trigger tensions if needed. China only takes into account its national interests and the strategic capabilities of its counterparts.
Iran newspaper blamed the government of former President Hassan Rouhani because it did not pay attention to the rising powers and Asian countries. Accordingly, the strategic partnership between the two countries had been shelved for years. Rokna News Agency explained that the strategic patience of the current Ebrahim Raisi government toward the Chinese president’s latest move was because Beijing is a strategic partner to Iran.
Ebtekar newspaper said that China had tilted toward the Arab countries because of Iran’s isolation.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
Unlike the aforementioned scathing criticism of China, Quds newspaper said that the three-day visit by China’s high-level delegation to Tehran mainly focused on following up the implementation of the Iran-China 25-year comprehensive cooperation agreement. Arman Melli newspaper agreed, saying that the two countries are planning to take major steps toward implementing their strategic cooperation. EcoIran website stressed that the visit of China’s deputy prime minister to Tehran had been prepared before and was not related to China’s newly stated position on the three islands.
The conflicting positions inside Iran reflect the complexities of Iranian domestic politics and the fact that the country is suffering political and diplomatic isolation, with even its closest friends such as China and Russia distancing themselves from Tehran.
Pirouz Mojtahedzadeh, an Iranian academic and political analyst, in an article published in Arman-e Melli, said that Russia does not need Iran’s military technology, even though Moscow got Tehran to participate in its adventure in Ukraine. As a consequence, Iran has endured high political and economic costs in the international arena. Some countries that have condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine consider Iran to be a partner in this crime.
China, through its relations with Iran, aims to reap the maximum political, economic and geopolitical benefits from Tehran. Although it is true that China is mainly looking at the host of economic benefits that it can secure from the economic agreements it has concluded with Iran, it is also aiming to make Tehran a subordinate country, politically and geopolitically. In the same vein, Mohammad-Hossein Malaek, a former Iranian ambassador to Beijing, said in an interview with ISNA that the 25-year agreement remains a dead letter. “We have to be realistic and announce the true relations’ level to the public,” he said.
Malaek added that the Chinese work thoroughly in international politics and they have plans to be the premier economy in the world. However, Russia’s adventure in Ukraine and China’s support for Moscow in the initial stages of the attack contributed to Beijing losing its international momentum and the West turned against it.
As for China’s declining interest in Iran, the Iranian diplomat said that, when reviewing the internal developments in Iran and the various assessments and surveys on Iran-China relations, he feels that Iran will not have anything in China in 10 to 15 years’ time. This is why China adopted an anti-Iran position in Saudi Arabia. Abdullah Kenji, editor-in-chief of Hamshahri newspaper, said: “It is normal for China to kick us. It wants to earn the trust of Arabs and not to provoke America.”
The Iranian regime has become quite fragile in front of its own people and the whole world, with its position worsened by the long-standing wave of protests across the country. If the regime does not tackle its internal and external crises as soon as possible, it will pay even higher costs and the whole political system may not be able to resist its inevitable, deadly fate.
• Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami