Sino-Iranian strategic partnership: Shaping the future of Middle East

January 30, 2016

Today the Middle East region is the most geopolitically vulnerable. It is heading towards a firestorm with some failed states like Libya and Yemen. Recent policies of some regional countries as well as Western governments have led ISIS into becoming the most powerful terrorist organization in history threatening the region and beyond. At the same time oil nations of the Persian Gulf are under the severe strain, which makes the regional outlook more volatile in 2016 and beyond. However, the recent visit by Chinese President Xi Jingping could serve as a new chapter towards more stability in the broader Middle East.


The most noteworthy part of Mr. Xi’s visit was the meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, leading to an agreement between Iran and China to develop strategic bilateral ties under a 25 year strategic plan. It was a test for both Tehran and Beijing that have always been looking for the expansion of relations with independent and reliable partners. On this basis 25 years of strategic relations could further safeguard Iran’s interest during the entire duration of the JCPOA.

Ayatollah Khamenei mentioned that energy is one of the most important issues in the contemporary world and pointed out that Iran is the only independent country in the region that can be trusted partner in the field of energy, because unlike certain nations in the region, Iran seeks energy policy that will not be influenced by any non-Iranian factors. But equally important, the Supreme Leader referred to the necessity of reviving the Silk Road and the need for the expansion of cooperation among countries placed along this route as logical, wise and acceptable idea.

This view is not a reflection of shortsighted political calculation in the post sanction era. Inclination toward and looking to the East has been embedded in Iran’s history for many centuries. Indeed it was Iran’s lack of trust in Western governments and their hostile policy the main reasons that the Iranian nation and the country's officials have pursued expansion of relations with independent nations in the East, particularly China. And therefore Tehran’s strategic interest emphasizes the support for “One China” in principled and firm policy of Islamic Republic of Iran.

Iran clearly recognizes that China’s global footprint is primarily based on the country's economic ability. And certainly perception of Chinese economy will be the most vital metric drivers of change in global marketplace and the Middle East region. China has been responsible for approximately one third of global growth for the past seven years. Chinese imports and exports account for more than 10% of global goods traits. 124 countries trade more with China than they do with the United States. As China's global footprint will continue to grow, making a move to develop long lasting partnership as a strategic partner with the Islamic Republic of the Iran is vitally important. Iran’s geographical, human and energy assets make economies of both nations to complement each other and the visit by the Chinese president rightly so have led to a 25-year alliance that could expand and deepen cooperation in cultural, educational, technological, military and security sectors at the level of strategic partners.

In the post sanction era, there are strong indications that Iran’s national security structure is committed to better relationship with China. It should be clear that Sino–Iranian partnership is not an axis of convenience but far more than an axis, it is an alliance of strategic connectivity with long-standing commitment. Surely, China and Iran will remain important powers that will not prioritize short-sighted self interest over long-term shared vision of the connected future. Each is revisionist power in its own way, and at the global level, discomfort with the status quo, which is the main root of Sino-Iranian partnership.

Beijing’s endeavor to bolster its position in the Middle East and border region will certainly face an uphill battle without a viable Sino-Iranian partnership. China’s international position rests on untested foundations and therefore it is essential for China to honor its strategic alliance with Iran in the era that Chinese leaders are actively pursuing strategic initiatives designed to redirect the global economy to run through Asia a long corridor that leads to Beijing. This would be entirely impossible without including Iran in that connectivity path