Iran eyes rapprochement with China against Western bloc

Through last week's cooperation deal, two sides aim to bolster ties amid growing tensions with West, say experts

Mustafa Melih Ahishali   | 30.03.2021
Iran eyes rapprochement with China against Western bloc


A recent comprehensive cooperation agreement signed between Iran and China aims to mitigate the negative effects of US sanctions on both countries, according to experts.

Iran and China signed a much-anticipated 25-year strategic cooperation agreement in Tehran on Saturday as part of China’s “Belt and Road” initiative.

The agreement aims to bolster economic cooperation between Tehran and Beijing and paves the way for Iran's participation in the “Belt and Road” Initiative, a massive infrastructure project stretching from East Asia to Europe, with a focus on the private sector.

According to the sources, cooperation in the defense sector is also part of the long-time agreement, which is significant, given growing tensions with the West and recent joint military drills in the Persian Gulf region.

A joint statement issued after the signing of the agreement by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the two sides aim to "promote development and a comprehensive strategic partnership" through the deal.

Through the agreement, Iran aims to send a message to Western countries that ‘if you do not work with us, we will work with eastern countries, including Russia and China,’ Reza Alijani, an Iranian political expert known for his closeness to reformists, told Anadolu Agency.

China, on the other hand, is seeking a political maneuver against the US administration of President Joe Biden, Alijani said.

Underlining that Beijing has never positioned itself as an ally of Iran, Alijani said implementation of the Iran-China comprehensive cooperation agreement does not seem possible.

“If Iran pursued a balanced foreign policy, it would not be left alone and doomed to China,” he noted.

Stressing that there is no balance of power between China and Iran, Alijani said: “China won't invest in unsafe areas; Iran is not a safe country.”

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Seyyed Jalal Sadatiyan, an Iranian expert on international relations, said Iran needs to cooperate with China as it does not currently have good relations with Western countries.

“Due to the problems in bilateral relations with the US, Iran’s relations with eastern countries such as Russia and China have recently become stronger,” Sadatiyan said.

Kadir Temiz from Istanbul Medeniyet University said China has accelerated its efforts to establish alliances in the region in response to the Biden administration’s "multilateral relations" strategy.

“In the post-Trump era, it became clear that the Biden administration would shape American foreign policy by strengthening 'multilateral relations' and highlighting the fundamental institutions and values of the liberal global order,” Temiz said.

The short-term goal of Beijing is to resist US sanctions on China through weakening the Biden administration’s new alliances strategy, he noted.

The $400 billion deal had been on the anvil since January 2016, when Chinese President Xi Jinping became the first world leader to visit Iran following the signing of the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers.

In June 2020, four years after the proposal was first pitched, the Iranian government said the agreement was based on a “win-win approach” after some opposition figures criticized it as a “secretive” agreement.

The deal had also come under the shadow of US sanctions after reports suggested that China was reluctant to wrap up the deal before the outcome of the US presidential election.

In a statement Friday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the agreement seeks to take Iranian-Chinese relations “to a strategic and comprehensive level.”

*Writing by Zehra Nur Duz

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