Saudi-Emirati media voice concern over Iran-China agreement

August 1, 2020 - 18:7

TEHRAN - As Iran and China are moving forward with their “extremely important” cooperation plan, Saudi and Emirati media outlets ring alarm bells over the deepening of ties between Tehran and Beijing that could undermine the U.S. pressure on Iran.

The 25-year cooperation plan between Iran and China has raised eyebrows in many countries in the region and beyond, even as the two countries have yet to sign the plan formally.

In fact, Iran and China still negotiate over the partnership plan, officially known as “Comprehensive Cooperation Plan between the People's Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

However, the plan has been exposed to extensive discussion in regional and international media, including Saudi and Emirati news media organizations. At the official level, the Saudis and Emiratis haven’t taken an official stance on the plan, but their media outlets have managed to discuss the plan thoroughly in line with the interests of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

The Saudi and Emirati media’s coverage of the plan is more or less similar to what the Western media say. They both dangle the possibility that the plan will undermine the U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, which began on May 8, 2018, after the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). They also express concerns over the deepening of ties between Iran and China in light of the confrontational policies of the U.S. against the two countries.
 
“The unease experienced by the major powers club under the pressure of the ‘Chinese rise’ concerns countries near and far, including those in the Middle East. The countries in the region sense that America is more preoccupied with the Asian rumbling than the problems in the Middle East. They sense that Russia has the power to obstruct, but lacks the means to resolve. Perhaps this is why concerned circles were focused on the comprehensive strategic partnership that was reached between China and Iran. Talk about the partnership began four years ago, but it was kept under wraps. If true, the deal would see China invest 400 billion dollars in Iranian energy and infrastructure sectors. This will not be a cause for concern for America and Russia alone, but the entire region,” wrote Ghassan Charbel, the editor-in-chief of the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, in an opinion piece.

The newspaper also published a lengthy news analysis report about the Iran-China plan on August 1, saying the cooperation plan, if finalized, would mean that China has decided to fully stand by Iran in the face of U.S. sanctions.

“If Beijing decides to comprehensively ‘open up’ to Iran, this will motivate Washington and other foreign policymakers to shed light on its policies. Historically, China has always had illegal networks that sell missile parts to Iran, and has allowed some agents and non-state firms to import Iranian oil. But with this agreement, the situation will turn into a governmental relationship and a full defense of the Tehran regime, and this will only contribute to Beijing's international isolation in the coming months and years,” the Saudi newspaper claimed.

‘Miserable new world order’

Arab News, another Saudi newspaper, has sought to address the plan’s repercussions for the region in an opinion piece authored by Hamdan al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar.

The Saudi analyst called the Iran-China strategic plan an “extremely important” agreement that “may pave the way for billions of dollars of Chinese investments to flow into the energy sector and other industries in Iran,” adding that these investments “would undermine the efforts of U.S. President Donald Trump to impose isolation on the Iranian government because of its nuclear and military ambitions.”

According to al-Shehri, the U.S. and the region will view Iran-China deal with concern, given “the deal’s ability to create a new reality in the region.”

“It will greatly complicate matters and provide Iran with weapons. Tehran represents a great danger and further developing its economy is a challenge for the international community,” claimed the analyst, adding that the deal is economical of great importance.

“The economic clause in the Sino-Iranian agreement means that the steady supply of oil at a fixed price means a lot to China, but it contradicts the policy of the U.S., which is seeking to achieve Iran’s collapse in its domestic arena under a suffocating economic embargo,” al-Shehri noted.

He also put the deal in a broader context of U.S.-China competition in the world, saying that China “seemingly set itself a goal of challenging every American presence in the world.” Al-Shehri also said that the deal could “lead to miserable new world order, not just a new Middle East based on spreading chaos and ruin.”

While the Saudi media outlets sought to portray the Iran-China plan as a very important development, some Emirati media outlets tried to downplay it.
 
The Emirati newspaper The National said in an opinion piece authored by Robin Mills, the chief executive of Qamar Energy, that the partnership plan “is not all that it appears to be.”

“China’s entire outbound foreign investment averaged about $200bn annually from 2010 to 2019, and it is now feeling the strain of a slowing economy, the coronavirus pandemic, and the U.S. trade war. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the centerpiece of the BRI [Belt and Road Initiative], referred to in the Iran-China accord, has absorbed only $62bn over fifteen years. So, the Middle Kingdom is unlikely to devote half of outward FDI to a single medium-sized country,” wrote Mills.

He added, “There is an emerging school of thought within China that its relations with the Middle East have already passed their peak, because of the slowing regional economy and the falling strategic importance of oil and gas. Under the pressure of American sanctions and coronavirus-battered demand, Chinese oil imports from Iran have fallen sharply, from about 630,000 barrels per day during 2017, to between 100,000 bpd and 200,000 bpd.”

Saudi and Emirati media outlets’ coverage of the Iran-China cooperation plan highlights a fact the Saudis and Emiratis refuse to articulate: that they oppose any kind of strategic cooperation between Iran and the world powers like China. When Iran settled its differences over the nuclear program with the West in 2015, they worked to dismantle the 2015 nuclear deal, which is now on life support. Now that Iran is about to sign comprehensive strategic partnership (CSP) with China, they once again voice concerns over Iran’s new policy of strengthening ties with the East.

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