On 27th March, Chinese foreign administrator Wang Yi and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif signed a comprehensive strategic cooperation agreement in Tehran. The two countries agreed upon increasing the possibilities of trade relationships and cooperation for the next 25 years. This agreement has been considered a massive change in sino-Iranian relationships. Also, as per media reports and speculations, China may even invest as much as US$ 400 billion in Iran.
These documents signed between the two nations had been considered to be the expanded statement made by the Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Tehran, all the way back in the year 2016. The pact signed between China and Iran has assured a 25-year “strategic cooperation pact,” which includes a plethora of political, economic, and strategic components. The two countries also pledged bilateral cooperation on political, cultural, trade, energy, security, and defense issues, all about the twenty-five-year cycle.
The agreement comes into power amid a major push from China to back Iran. This was in the pretext to help Iran in the process of dealing with the continuing weight of sanctions reinstated by the US. This became pretty rampant after the state’s withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal.
An insight into the China-Iran Strategic Cooperation Pact:
This pact was crafted with the sole intention of developing and deepening relations between Iran and China. This bond would later help establish a blueprint for “reciprocal investments in the varied fields of transport, ports, energy, industry, and services.” A tale of two-sided benefits. This pact also forms a part of China’s much calculated trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This plan is intended to fund well-engineered infrastructure projects and increase China’s influence overseas.
A look into China’s growth in the middle eastern countries :
- China’s Growing Role in the Middle East is thought to be a very well-organized plan which isn’t just limited to trade.
- For starters, Iran relies heavily on China as its largest trading partner.
- Chinese foreign minister, in his recent visit to West Asian nations, has put forward proposals for a five-point initiative. This is with the intent of achieving security and stability in the Middle East.
- China has phrased that it wishes to advocate mutual respect to uphold equity and justice. It also is clear with its wish of achieving non-proliferation, jointly fostering collective security, and accelerating development cooperation.
- Earlier, China, alongside Russia, called for the US to unconditionally return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as soon as possible. Revoking the unilateral sanctions against Iran was also demanded.
- In this context, China proposed the establishment of a regional security dialogue platform to converge a new consensus. This was done with the notion of resolving the security concerns of countries in the region.
Why does China want to establish greater control over the Middle East?
For the countries keeping a note of the calculated Chinese steps, know that China is perhaps one of the most power-driven countries. China has slowly yet significantly increased its financial, political, and to an auxiliary extent – security imprint in the Middle East over the past decade. This has helped China in becoming the biggest trade partner and external investor for many countries in the region.
Though the advancements are smart, this is to be taken into account that China still has a limited appetite for challenging the US-led security architecture in the Middle East. This is a restraining force for the country from playing a significant role in regional politics.
Yet, the country’s growing economic presence with time is likely to pull it into wider engagement with the region in certain ways that could significantly be a strong blow to the varied European interests. Before it’s too late, the Europeans should do what they can in their power to monitor China’s growing influence on regional stability and political dynamics.
This is especially about sensitive issues such as surveillance technology and arms sales. Europeans should interact with other countries in the region and increase their engagement with China in the Middle East with the sole aim of refocusing its economic role on constructive initiatives.
China’s evolving role in the Middle East.
China has become an increasingly significant player with its recent relationships in the Middle East over the past decade. While it hasn’t been long since China has set its foot in this part of the world and still being a relative newcomer to the region, it is exceptionally cautious in its approach to provincial political and security challenges.
Though China had almost very few connections with the Middle East in the recent past, things have changed now. The country has been compelled to expand its engagement with the Middle East due to its growing financial presence there. The moments of global slip-ups are a moment of opportunity for the other countries, and rightly so, the moment when the United States’ long-standing dominance over the region started showing signs of crack as the decline neared, the European policymakers began increasingly debating the future of the Middle Eastern security architecture.
There was also a good amount of apprehension concerning China’s potential role within that structure. However, many policymakers fell short of completely understanding China’s course of action. China’s position and objectives in the Middle East were questioned, but this never stopped the country from actually utilizing these factors in their favor as it gave them a greater ability to affect regional stability and political dynamics in the medium to long term. China’s rise is known to have led to intensifying geopolitical competition in Europe’s neighborhood. More countries and policymakers should begin to reason out the countries into revoking their thinking about the Middle East.
Can there be a noticeable shift from economic interests to political and security engagement?
To date, China has been pretty swift and has concluded such relationships via agreements with 15 Middle Eastern countries. Though maybe unknown to many, China participates in anti-piracy and maritime security missions in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden. China also has played its part and has conducted large-scale operations to rescue its nationals from Libya in 2011, followed by a rescue search in Yemen in 2015.
The country also has increased its mediation efforts in crises such as those in Syria and Yemen. China also played an instrumental role in persuading Tehran to sign the Iran nuclear deal. This gave them the chance to appoint two special envoys to Middle Eastern countries in conflict. There’s more to how China has expanded its bases.
For instance, China’s establishment of its first overseas military base, in Djibouti combined with the probable militarisation of the Pakistani port of Gwadar, contributed to the massive growth of the country’s military presence. The growth was noticeably more profound near crucial maritime chokepoints, the Strait of Hormuz and Bab el-Mandeb. To add to more concerns globally, China has supplied arms to several Middle Eastern countries, albeit on a small scale.
Though these advancements were made by the Chinese government, they have had a plan in hindsight and have been extremely careful in not getting too involved. China has firm beliefs that the US can take responsibility for managing security in the region. China has played it smart and has almost played no role in easing geopolitical tension in the Middle East.
This is very well indicated by the distance its political representatives maintain from major conflicts breaking out there. While China has paired up with Russia on the UN Security Council to protect the Syrian regime, this solidifies the fact that China desires to adhere to the principle of non-interference rather than its direct interests in the Syrian conflict.
- Military Partnerships: China is known to have a certain interest in extending its military bases. China has been reportedly concluding a security and military partnership with Iran.
- China calls for joint training and joint research and weapons development, and so on. This is done to help fight the lopsided battles with greater intent, like the wars against terrorism, drug and human trafficking, and cross-border crimes.
- There are very probable chances that the sizable Chinese investments in Iranian ports development may eventually be turned into something more sinister like the permanent military access arrangements with Iran.
- Strategic Stakes Around the Chabahar Port: With a growing Chinese presence in Iran, India is concerned about its strategic stakes that China is known to undertake from time to time. The project under concern is around the Chabahar port project. The port is in close connectivity to Gwadar port in Pakistan. This is being developed by China as part of its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that links it to the Indian Ocean through BRI.
- Geopolitical Rivalry: India finds itself strangulated in the geopolitical rivalry between the US & China over Iran. India’s dilemma also buds from the fact that robust support from the US is essential in time of a stand-off with China, given that they have shared borders.
- Relationship with Other Countries: Growing Chinese relationships in Iran will have a long-lasting impact on India’s relationship with not only Iran but also with other countries in the Middle East like Afghanistan.