M. K. Badrakumar
The Chinese minister’s tour announced Beijing’s more active approach in the Middle East. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran have made it clear that they are in the mood for strategic co-operation, despite US opposition
When China and Iran, the two main enemies of the United States in the modern world situation, conclude a twenty-five-year strategic pact, it is pointless to hesitate and speculate whether this development affects America’s strategic interests. Of course it does. Everything about the West Asian region is about geopolitics – from oil and jihad to petrodollars.
For centuries, the region served as a crossroads of empires between Europe and Asia. And in modern history, foreign intruders have created a new sad reality – failed states, humiliated nations, devastated economies, extreme inequality and poverty, a devastated environment, looted resources, geographically conflicting entities and violent radicalism.
The historic agreement between China and Iran, signed on March 27 in Tehran during the visit of Chinese State Counselor and Foreign Minister Wang Jia, has been negotiated since the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Tehran in 2016. Numerous visits by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to China in recent years have testified to Tehran’s high importance in the talks culminating in a formal signing ceremony in Tehran on Saturday, marking the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two civilizations. 21st century states that have enjoyed enormous historical continuity and cultural unity throughout the great geographical region for millennia.
The text of the negotiated document has not been made public yet, but from the joint statement published on March 27, we can see that the agreement on increasing bilateral trade to 600 billion dollars in the next decade reached during Xi’s visit was acted upon. In fact, the joint statement begins with an invitation to Sie’s visit. The two additional documents signed by the two countries refer to the “Memorandum of Understanding on Joint Promotion of the Silk Road and the Maritime Silk Road for the 21st Century” and the “Memorandum of Understanding for Strengthening Industrial and Mineral Capacities and Investments”, both of which will “expand cooperation and mutual investments in various fields including transport, railways, ports, energy, industry, trade and services.”
The joint statement said that, in line with their economic needs, both sides would improve energy co-operation. Iran will supply China with oil and gas, while the Chinese side will “consider financing and investing in projects for the extraction and processing of oil and gas in the energy industry” in Iran. It is planned to achieve broad economic cooperation covering investment and trade exchanges, banking, financing, mining, transport, communications, space, manufacturing industry, port development, upgrade and expansion of the Iranian railway network, introduction of express rail systems in Iran, agriculture, water resources, environmental protection, food safety, fight against desertification, desalination of water, use of nuclear energy and more. The bilateral “Memorandum of Understanding for Strengthening Investment Cooperation” is dedicated to this aspect and the exchange of knowledge and technology.
However, the scope of the pact far exceeds trade and investment. One commentator in the Chinese state media noted that, “as things stand, such an agreement will completely change the prevailing geopolitical landscape in the West Asian region, which has long been subject to American hegemony.” The joint statement said that a comprehensive strategic partnership meant “a major agreement in all areas of bilateral relations and regional and international issues”. It adds that “currently the regional and international situation is facing a deep and complex development. In such circumstances, the two sides emphasize the importance of cooperation between developing countries in international affairs, as well as their commitment to joint efforts to achieve peace, stability and development in the region and the world as a whole. ”
It is interesting to note in the joint statement that “China attaches importance to Iran’s effective role as a regional power, positively assesses Iran’s role in the activities of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and supports Iran’s application for full membership in the organization.” Of course, that is a way to tell the world that China does not accept Iran’s expulsion from the international community. It is possible that China and Russia are on the same side on this issue.
The United States has made a significant contribution to providing a reason for such a pact. Neither China nor Iran expect any good will from the United States. They realize that the hostile way of thinking in America is only strengthening under the supervision of President Joe Biden. As for Tehran, he no longer has any hope that Biden will revive the JCPOA or lift sanctions in the near future. Therefore, there is no doubt that the rejection of American unilateralism and sanctions is the leitmotif of the Sino-Iranian strategic partnership.
Pact with Riyadh and Ankara
China’s interest lies in the “broad establishment” of this leitmotif in order to accept its relations with regional states as a whole. Wang’s regional tour included Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, the UAE and Oman. The fact that he traveled to Iran via Saudi Arabia is both symbolic and essential. At a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh on March 24, Wang said that China supports Saudi Arabia in protecting its sovereignty, national dignity, security and stability and opposes interference in Saudi Arabia’s internal affairs under any pretext. In response, Prince Mohammed confirmed that China’s rise is conducive to global peace, stability and prosperity, as well as to more balanced global development.
The heir to the throne expressed hope that the two countries would strengthen anti-terrorist and security cooperation in order to raise bilateral ties to a higher level. Most importantly, the heir to the throne said that Saudi Arabia “strongly supports China’s legitimate position on Xinjiang and Hong Kong issues, opposes interference in China’s internal affairs under any pretext, and rejects attempts by certain parties to bring discord between China and of the Islamic world. “
More specifically, Saudi Arabia has undermined the current US campaign against China over Xinjiang. That is the defeat of the Biden administration. In fact, Wang’s regional tour testifies to the fact that there are actually no states that support slanderous U.S. attacks directed against China. The regional states feel that the United States is leading an aggressive rivalry with the growing China, which is ready to overtake them in the near future and become the world’s number one superpower. And so they refuse to take sides in that rivalry.
The trick is this: China, after carefully assessing the dynamics of power in Western Asia, has presented certain common principles that are equally applicable throughout the region in order to provide a basis for its relations with regional states. The unspoken goal is to encourage regional states to turn to an independent foreign policy and to free themselves from the Western yoke, especially American hegemony. But the Chinese method for such a thing is radically different from the coercive and often violent tactics that Western powers have traditionally resorted to in the region.
China is absolutely not interested in using coercion as an instrument of “persuasion” even in relation to Turkey, which has a loud Uighur diaspora (which held demonstrations during Wang’s visit). At a meeting with Wang, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed Turkey’s deep interest in “strengthening mutual trust, promoting synergies between China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Turkey’s Middle Corridor Plan, strengthening co-operation in all fields, including interconnection and communication. infrastructure and investment, seeking a more balanced development of bilateral trade and encouraging trade in local currencies (instead of the dollar). China, in turn, offers relations on an equal footing. “
Erdogan also expressed Turkey’s gratitude for China’s five-point initiative to achieve security and stability in the Middle East and its readiness to deepen communication and co-ordination with China on regional issues. In essence, China’s projection of a constructive agenda for developing mutually beneficial relations with regional states has taken effect.
In an exclusive interview with Al Arabia last week, Chinese State Counselor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi presented Beijing’s approach to the West Asian region, with special reference to tensions in the Persian Gulf.
Wang expressed regret that “due to long-lasting conflicts and turmoil in recent history, the level of security in the region has dropped to a lower level”. correspond to the regional reality. It must remain impervious to external pressures and interference and pursue an inclusive and conciliatory approach to building a security architecture that respects the legitimate concerns of all parties. “
Wang reiterated the importance of the third time. China has recently advocated a “five-point initiative” based on commitment to mutual respect (non-interference in internal affairs), justice and fairness (read the Palestinian question), non-proliferation (Middle East zone without nuclear weapons), collective security (proposal to in China, hold a multilateral conference on regional security in the Gulf) and development cooperation (Belt and Road Initiative, free trade agreements). It will not be easy for the United States to deal with this Chinese package of “true multilateralism.” China encourages regional states to adopt a policy of equality, justice and “resistance” to American harassment (usually directed at Iran) in order to create strategic autonomy.
China hopes to strengthen its bilateral relations on this new mindset that provides impeccable opportunities to add solid content of great mutual benefit. Thus, during Wang’s stay in Abu Dhabi (his destination after Tehran), it was announced that the UAE would start production of Chinese Sinofarm vaccine next month and become the first Gulf state to build a coronavirus vaccine plant with an initial production capacity of 200 million doses. vaccine annually, thus intensifying its efforts to become a supply hub for West Asia and Africa.
On the other hand, just before Wang Jia arrived in Riyadh, Aramco CEO Amin Nasser announced that “ensuring the continued security of China’s energy needs remains our top priority – not only for the next five years, but for the next 50 years or more.” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also told Wang that Riyadh wants to “continuously deepen bilateral co-operation” in crude oil production, petrochemistry, nuclear energy and other fields of energy co-operation, “while expanding into new areas” such as the 5G network, telecommunications. and digital technologies.
By the way, on March 3, the Council of the Arab League, during its 155th session at the level of foreign ministers, adopted a resolution referring to China, which reiterated the importance of strengthening Sino-Arab ties and announced that Saudi Arabia would host the first Arab of the Chinese summit this year. Wang called it an impressive sign and added that he hoped the summit would be “an unforgettable event in the history of Sino-Arab relations.”
The biggest challenge for the US
The United States has never before faced the Soviet Union or Western competitors with the kind of challenge that China poses today by offering regional states a whole new path of development and governance that gives primacy to the national interests of sovereign states and seeks to diversify their economies. not that they serve as gas stations for large oil companies. The Chinese offer is tempting: it does not take sides in internal regional splits and divisions and instead wants regional players to follow an inclusive and conciliatory approach to building their own security architecture, which respects the legitimate concerns of all parties.
However, China reckons that the outcome will be such that the region will eventually emerge from the shadow of Western domination in order to pursue its policy independently and resist American pressure and interference. In short, equal conditions for all are what China is striving for in the near future.
Therefore, while insisting that Iran should continue to meet its obligations regarding nuclear weapons, Wang pointed out that the international community should also support the efforts of regional states to establish the Middle East as a nuclear-weapon-free zone, and that, in in accordance with a consensual approach, all parties should discuss and formulate a route and schedule for the implementation of the JCPOA. It is possible that this puts China in a key role of mediator between Iran and its Arab neighbors.
In fact, the “X” factor refers to security and military cooperation in the Sino-Iranian pact. Regardless of the strategic ambivalence of both sides on this issue, if US-Iranian tensions deepen, Tehran will begin to see a mutual advantage in allowing China and Russia to occasionally access its bases to balance the US presence in the Persian Gulf. Undoubtedly, Iran will demand the transfer of advanced military technologies from China and Russia, as soon as the United Nations embargo on such transactions ends soon, which is foreseen in the Iranian Nuclear Agreement (JCPOA).
The large volume of oil and gas exports to China will increase Iran’s purchasing power. (China reportedly is already increasing Iranian oil imports; imports are expected to reach 856,000 barrels a day in March, up 129 percent from February.) More specifically, China will generate revenue for Iran to make money. its full potential as a non-intimidating regional power. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia also considers China (and Russia) as its partner for the development of the domestic defense industry, which reduces its dependence on the purchase of expensive weapons from Western countries.
The real side of history
Iran feels that the tightening of the American attitude towards China – which was evident during the recent talks in Anchorage – prompted Beijing to reject its earlier restraint and take a more active position in the regional policy of the Middle East. In his address in Tehran, Wang Yi emphasized that China is ready to oppose hegemony and harassment, to protect international justice and equality, and to stand up for international norms, together with the people of Iran and other countries. “Our relations with Iran will not be affected by changes in current circumstances; “Our relations will have stability and a strategic character,” Wang said. His point, of course, was the following: “Iran decides independently on its relations with other countries and is not like some countries that change their attitudes because of one phone call.”
Wang stressed that China is consistent in opposing unreasonable unilateral sanctions imposed on Iran by other countries, because they violate international law, especially those based on lies and false information, which are immoral, unpopular and an insult to human conscience. He said that China is ready to cooperate with Iran and other countries in order to jointly oppose acts of violence by external forces, support international equality and justice, and defend the basic norms of international relations.
Certainly, Iran welcomes this marked shift in China’s diplomatic stance and sees clear advantages in it. Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkani, a very influential figure in the country’s top echelons, described the pact with China as “part of an active policy of resistance.”
Wang stressed that it is time to seriously consider the bad consequences of external interference in the region and to work together to find effective ways to maintain long-term regional security and stability. Of course, China is well aware that regional divisions (which are largely the product of Western power interference) will not disappear overnight. Nevertheless, Wang’s principled message during the regional tour was that regional states should strengthen their sovereignty, promote the spirit of independence, reject interference from geopolitical actors, seek development paths that meet national needs and establish a security framework their interests.
M. K. Badrakumar