China-Iran partnership: regional and global scenario

The New York Times, in its July 11, 2020 edition revealed some details of the undergoing China-Iran twenty-five-year comprehensive strategic partnership’s final draft. Earlier, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif presented this historic understanding in the Iranian Parliament (Majlis). He then disclosed that a decision to this effect had been taken in January 2016, when President Xi Jinping visited Iran.
According to the initial report, the 18-page draft outline identifies nearly a hundred different projects, between the two countries, ranging from building the Iranian infrastructure, like airports, subways and high-speed trains to the development of trade-free zones, and upgrading of the telecommunications network, and many more allied subjects. The opening lines of the proposed draft signify the vastness of this understanding. It states, “Two ancient Asian cultures, two partners in the sectors of trade, economy, politics, culture and security with a similar outlook and many mutual bilateral and multilateral interests will consider one another strategic partners.”
Before examining the implications of this agreement on regional and global geo-strategic alignments, it is important to review its key points: First, the deal is worth about 400 billion USD; of which $280 is expected to be spent by China on Iran’s energy sector, while $120 to be reserved for industry and transportation development. Second, the agreement is likely to address Iran’s economic problems (especially unemployment), which it faced because of the inhuman and cruel American sanctions, after unilateral withdrawal in 2018 from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), by the Trump administration, commonly known as Iran Nuclear Deal. Third, Iran will supply oil to China at a special discount, for twenty-five years, fulfilling the energy needs of China. Fourth, under the same plan, China is likely to introduce a new digital currency called “e-RMB”, which will be able to counter the monopoly of the US dollar in the international economic system, sideling the American sanction regime. Fifth, the benefits of this strategic agreement would not be limited to China and Iran, but to the whole region, as it is the first Asian alliance of its nature.
The strategic nature and permanence of this agreement have alarmed the United States, in particular, who unforeseen this alliance as a stepping stone for China’s growing influence in the Persian Gulf region. In the concerned quarters of Washington, DC, this closeness is clearly visualised as a challenge to US strategic and economic monopoly in the Gulf and wider Middle East regions.
Under these circumstances, the only option left for Iran was to ally with a powerful state, with a potential to side-track the worse effects of the sanctions. On its part, the emerging potential of China has an ability to ensure security for Iran and create a balance of power in the tense region of the Gulf. All these goals are achievable through a long-term, mutually beneficial Iran-China partnership. It is important to note that the effects of this agreement will not be limited to only these two countries.
Before assessing the ramifications of the Sino-Iran partnership for Pakistan, it is important to glance at the background of Pakistan-China close ties. In the 1950s, when China was struggling to establish its place in the regional and global environments, Pakistan decided to establish good relations with emerging China, even though Pakistan was a member of the “SEATO”, which was a US sponsored defence pact. Some clauses of this treaty stated that it’s an alliance to deal with the Chinese military threat. At that time, Pakistan categorically made its position clear in a documented SEATO meeting that although Pakistan was a member of this arrangement but it does not consider itself as antagonist towards China. This gesture was welcomed, in a speech by the legendary Prime Minister, Zhou Enlai. Since then, the relations between the two countries have been more than cordial, despite US obstacles, directly or through its proxies in the Gulf.
Pakistan and China are partners in the “CPEC”, another long-term strategic partnership, and Chinese close ties with Iran would provide a tactical shield to Pakistan’s strategic and economic interests, strengthening still further—if Pakistan’s another all-weather ally Turkey joins in this equation. Prime Minister Imran Khan remarked in a recent TV interview, “We should be clear that our future is with China”. He went further to say that Pakistan is lucky to have China as our friend, as on all occasions it stood by us, while the others shied away. To be sure, China, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey would form a formidable regional strategic understanding.

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