Tehran eyes strategic partnership with Beijing as Zarif visits China

October 9, 2020 - 21:17

TEHRAN – As Iran’s chief diplomat arrives in China, Tehran and Beijing are expected to hold talks on a strategic partnership plan that its draft has already been approved by the Iranian government but is still under consideration in China.

“Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who has traveled to China at the invitation of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, arrived in the southern province of Yunnan at the head of a high-ranking delegation,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday.

The statement also said, “Upon arrival on Friday, Foreign Minister Zarif was welcomed by Chinese officials. He will meet and hold talks with his Chinese counterpart on Saturday, October 10, 2020.”

Earlier on Thursday, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran Saeed Khatibzadeh said Zarif’s two-day visit is “in line with close consultations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and China.”

The spokesman said Zarif will hold talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, adding that the two diplomats will exchange views on the regional and international developments and the expansion of bilateral relations between Tehran and Beijing.
He pointed out, “The two countries share views on important spheres such as the fight against the U.S. unilateralism and interference in the internal affairs of countries.”

The statement did not give further details about Zarif’s discussions in China but he is likely to hold talks on the strategic partnership plan that has been under negotiation since last year. If finalized, the 25-year plan will raise the cooperation between Tehran and Beijing to unprecedented levels.

Neither Iran nor China did formally give many details about the plan. However, some details of the 25-year partnership have been leaked to the press. According to the leaks, China will invest a whopping $400 billion in various Iranian sectors including oil and gas. In exchange, Iran will ensure steady energy supplies to China for a period of 25 years at a discounted rate.

The 25-year plan between Iran and China, officially known as “Comprehensive Cooperation Plan between the People's Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Iran,” is still under negotiation although Iran has approved a draft of the plan on June 21.

At a cabinet session in June, the government of Hassan Rouhani approved the draft and asked Zarif to negotiate with the Chinese side over finalizing the plan.

During the session, Rouhani said, “This cooperation is a ground for Iran and China’s participation in basic projects and development of infrastructure, including the large ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, and an opportunity to attract investment in various economic fields, including industry, tourism, information technology, and communication.”

Soon after the session, Zarif held talks with his Chinese counterpart. During the talks, Iran’s chief diplomat expressed hope that the 25-year cooperation would be signed soon.

In recent weeks, Iranian officials accelerated talks with their Chinese counterparts in an apparent effort to finalize the partnership plan.

On September 29, Zarif whished a broader strategic comprehensive partnership between Iran and China, while praising China for bringing Covid-19 under control and reviving its economy. A few days later, President Rouhani sent a message to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on the 71st anniversary of the establishment of the People's Republic of China.

“The comprehensive strategic partnership of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People's Republic of China, which stems from common cultural grounds, long-term historical relations and the two countries' view of international developments and their determination to fight unilateralism, has provided a great groundwork for developing bilateral relations in various fields,” said Rouhani in the message.

In light of these contacts, Zarif is going to discuss several issues, including the partnership plan, according to an assistant to Zarif.

The assistant, Reza Zabib, told the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) news agency that the Iranian foreign minister will discuss at least three issues in China.

“We will pursue three issues. The first is the facilitation of trade between the two countries,” Zabib said, adding that facilitating trade for the Iranian private sector is high on Zarif’s agenda.

He said, “Unfortunately, the [U.S.] sanctions are putting pressures everywhere but fortunately we are in a very good position to do business with China.”

The second issue is the coronavirus, the assistant said.

According to Zabib, Iran has received medical aid from China and it can cooperate with China in terms of producing the Covid-19 vaccine.
Zabib said the third issue is the talks on the 25-year cooperation plan.

“We hope that Mr. Zarif’s visit to China will be a major step toward institutionalizing the 25-year cooperation document between the two countries, which will be a good basis for boosting economic relations,” said Zabib, adding, “Concerning the 25-year cooperation plan between Iran and China, there have been continuous contacts between the experts of the two countries since last year.”

It remains to be seen whether China will approve the draft of the cooperation plan during Zarif’s visit. But some analysts believe that China may be in the final stage of studying the plan and that it could approve it in the coming months. If China does so, the economic cooperation between Tehran and Beijing will reach a level that is not seen before. This may be the reason why some Iranian analysts and diplomats described the plan as a “turning point” in Iran-China relations.


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