The semantics of ‘cooperation’ among different countries usually revolve around the following three vectors which are:

· Political, cultural, religious and economic commonalities that foster integration.

· Common challenges that extend beyond borders.

· Inter-country engagement in regional or global processes.

When the question of cooperation in the current global order is broached, the clear winner among the above mentioned vectors is economy. Economy is what connects us all. Economic linkages free of political and strategic baggage are what endure in the long-run. The question of trilateral cooperation among Pakistan, Iran and China is based on this very premise. But this potential of increased integration among these three countries is also backed by several tangible prospects which result in deeper connectivity. China’s ambitious dream of the One Belt and One Road (OBOR) is what has provided a logical basis to this idea.

While a whirlpool of economic activity grips Asia, the need to forge well-rounded relations with one’s neighbours is becoming more and more nuanced. Pakistan’s geostrategic location in South Asia is ideal for various initiatives of regional connectivity despite its close proximity to a troubled state like Afghanistan. Opportunities are arising for enhancement of cooperation under the aegis of the regional connectivity initiatives that China is promoting such as the Belt and Road Initiative in general and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in particular. While China and Pakistan enjoy a deep abiding friendship with one another, Iran’s outlook towards these two countries is also based on principles of brotherhood and solidarity. On the sidelines of the 71st UNGA session last year in September, the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed Iran’s desire to join CPEC for furthering regional participation.

China is currently the biggest trade partner and importer for Iran as well as for Pakistan. According to the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Rahimpour, two-way trade volume between China and Iran has exceeded USD32 billion and is expected to grow beyond that through several areas of mutual cooperation. Iran also has historical proximity with the ancient Silk Road, which makes it all the more congruent with China’s dream of reviving this glorious route. China also warranted support to Iran during the tedious negotiations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding the nuclear deal which resulted in lifting of sanctions from Iran. Iran currently exports half of its annual petrochemical output to China. The two have maintained a respectable percentage of this exchange even through the imposition of sanctions. China, as the world’s biggest consumer of energy, requires a steady and long-term source of fuel to feed its blazing industry and it does not hurt to count on sources that are in the geographical vicinity. According to a study by the famous energy scholar Michael Tanchum, China will position itself to be the major recipient of Iranian and Turkmen oil to execute the completion of the energy corridors that are a part of the bigger OBOR (One Belt One Road) dream. The latest signing of the multi-billion dollar deal to develop the South Pars gas field in Iran between a consortium of Chinese and French energy giants is a milestone for Iran-China energy cooperation. This step ligates Iran with the massive energy and infrastructural cooperation going on in this region of which Pakistan and China are two integral components. Hence, a ‘trident’ of sorts can be seen emerging on the horizon which contains these three geographically and economically contiguous countries; Pakistan, China and Iran.

With such multilateral initiatives, regional integration can be enhanced, which consequentially translates into global peace. Iran being a gateway to the Middle Eastern countries, can help connect those countries to the economic development underway in the Asia-Pacific. CPEC as a testing ground for promising economic opportunities, is what could bring these three states even closer together. Cultural exchanges and joint projects can bring about an air of understanding that is otherwise lacking from the picture due to several compelling factors. It has been time and again reiterated by all three heads of states and their representatives that Gwadar and Chahbahar ports are meant to function with cooperation instead of competition. Their proximity and purpose could even lead them to become sister ports in the future as well. This would be yet another validation for this ‘trident’ in question that can easily aim to weed out naysayers and negative forces from the region, for the collective good.