By Mohammad Mazhari

China, Russia have interest in improving Iran’s economy, military: Texas University professor 

November 27, 2020 - 12:56

TEHRAN – Describing Iran’s relationship with China and Russia as “partnership” rather than “alliance”, an American professor says that both China and Russia share an interest in improving Iran’s economic capacities and opposing U.S. policies against Iran.

In an interview with the Tehran Times, Jon R. Taylor, professor of political science and geography at the University of Texas, notes that “China and Russia have an interest in improving Iran’s military capabilities and its economy.”
 “The 25-Year Comprehensive Partnership, part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative has fostered Chinese investments to upgrade Iran’s oil, gas, and petrochemical industries and to improve the country’s overland transportation,” Taylor notes.  
The following is the text of the interview:

Q: What is your analysis of the status of China in the global economy? 

A: China more than doubled its per capita GDP in less than a decade, moving from $6 trillion in 2010 to $14 trillion in 2019.  According to the IMF’s World Economic Output 2020 released in October, China has now overtaken the U.S. to become the world’s largest economy. Measured by this metric for comparing national economies, the IMF report shows that China’s economy is about one-sixth larger than the U.S. economy.  China will be the only major economy that will record positive growth in 2020.  The U.S. won’t be able to make that claim.  Everyone should understand that the world has changed.  After the pandemic is finally defeated and the economic meltdown reversed, China’s success in navigating through these twin crises will serve to underscore its role as the pre-eminent player in the global economy.  

“According to the IMF’s World Economic Output 2020 released in October, China has now overtaken the U.S. to become the world’s largest economy.”Q: The last four years have been one of the most tumultuous periods in modern China-U.S. relations. Was Trump’s impulsiveness responsible for such a situation or was it a strategy shift by Washington?  

A: It was actually a combination of both.  While much of the shift was the result of Trump’s headstrong pursuit of an “America First” policy, the relationship was beginning to show signs of deterioration late in the Obama Administration.  However, it’s under Trump that we have seen China-U.S. relations deteriorate to their worst level since 1972, before Nixon’s visit to China.  While many may think that China-U.S. relations will improve under Joe Biden, I would strongly caution against irrational exuberance on this.  Some policies, such as student and travel visas, will be a relatively easy fix.  However, other issues, such as intellectual property, cybersecurity, economic competition, and Cross-Straits relations, and the South China Sea issue, will remain areas of contention.  What will likely change quickly once Biden is sworn in is the confrontational, belligerent tone on the part of the U.S.  It helps that China has already sent out signals looking for areas of cooperation and that Biden is naming people to high positions in his administration who have long-term diplomatic experience.  

Q: Don’t you expect China to replace the U.S. in regions like West Asia? Does China have the political and economic capacities to play a key role in the West Asia region? 

A: I think that China doesn’t necessarily want to replace the U.S. in the Middle East (West Asia) as much as it wants to offer nations in the region an alternative that is less concerned about their internal relations and more focused on areas of mutual cooperation and economic development. China has the ability to engage in bilateral and multilateral relations on a host of issues from energy to agriculture to high technology to finance that the U.S. has taken for granted, occasionally ignored, or outright opposed.  China has political and economic capacities to become a key player in the region.  Note that I didn’t mention the military.  While they have capacities in this area, China has little interest in pursuing a geopolitical strategy in the region that would require the use of military assets.

Q: What are the features that make a distinction between the Chinese economy and the U.S. economy? Does China follow a Marxist economy or is it heading towards a free market? 

A: That’s a great question.  Some would say that the Chinese and American economies are looking at each other through a mirror darkly.  Perhaps.  While the U.S. prides itself on being a free-market economy, we know that this is not entirely accurate. Conversely, while China states that it’s a “High-Level Socialist Market Economy,” it has many elements that would be instantly recognizable to the average American.  While Marx is often mentioned by the Party and invoked in Chinese economic and political theory, terms such as optimizing macro-economic governance, establishing a modern fiscal, taxation, and financial system, and fostering a high-standard market system are mentioned much more often.  In this respect, China leans a bit more toward Keynes than Marx at the moment.

Q: What will be the fate of the U.S.–China competition? Compromise or clash?

A:  That’s one of the most important questions of the early-to-mid 21st Century.  One would hope that with the election of Biden that tensions between the two nations might begin to improve.  But, with the U.S. as an established superpower and China as a rapidly rising global power, there will be competition.  Will it result in actual conflict?  Hopefully not.  The first step is to understand that the two nations will likely have differences on a host of issues.  The second step is to acknowledge that these differences do not have to lead to confrontation and could actually lead to compromise, or barring that, at least a framework for engagement.

Q: Do you think that China is going to form a coalition with regional powers such as Russia and Iran? 

A: Time will tell. I think that partnership might be a better word to use here rather than a coalition.  Both China and Russia share an interest in opposing U.S. sanctions on Iran.  The partnership is as much economic as it is political or military.  Both China and Russia have an interest in improving Iran’s military capabilities and its economy.  For example, the 25-Year Comprehensive Partnership, part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, has fostered Chinese investments to upgrade Iran’s oil, gas, and petrochemical industries and to improve the country’s overland transportation.  China is also financing upgrades to Iran’s ports.  This partnership has served all three nations well and has made Iran far less susceptible than it once was to U.S. pressure on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. One result of this partnership that should be watched closely once Biden is in office: Will pressure from China and Russia compel the U.S. to comply with the JCPOA and remove all the sanctions that it imposed since 2018?  Given their success at the UN Security Council earlier this year, will this encourage the U.S. to assure businesses and banks that they can receive sanctions relief and reengage with Iran without fear of U.S. sanctions?


 

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