By Mohammad Mazhari

The strategic partnership with China will improve Iran’s regional status: Texas University professor

April 9, 2021 - 15:5

TEHRAN - An American professor from the University of Texas says the strategic partnership between Iran and China has raised concerns in Washington as it improves Iran’s regional position.

“The strategic partnership has already improved Iran’s regional position, which immediately raised concerns in Washington,” Jon R. Taylor tells the Tehran Times. 
Taylor, a professor of political science and geography at the University of Texas, notes that “Iran has a fairly unique place in China’s Middle East (West Asian) strategy because it’s more than just trade – it’s also military and political.” 
U.S. President Joe Biden expressed concern about the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Iran.

Asked about the Agreement, Biden said, "I've been worried about that for years."

China and Iran signed a deal aimed at charting the course of their economic, political, and trade relations over the next 25 years.

The Chinese government plans to invest in Iran and buy oil from the Islamic Republic, a move not welcomed by Washington.

The “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” agreement, signed in Tehran on March 27 by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, has been in the works since 2016, when President Xi Jinping became the first Chinese leader to visit the Iranian capital in over a decade.

Following is the text of the interview with Jon R. Taylor: 

Q: What is the importance of the 25-year strategic partnership signed between China and Iran?

“While American presidential administrations may have changed, the emphasis appears to remain the same: China.  And Iran.  And Russia.” A: Contrary to observations by some, the strategic partnership deal is far more than symbolic.  The deal enhances bilateral economic and political relations between the two nations by increasing cooperation in areas ranging from petrochemicals to mining to nuclear power to high technology to transportation to agriculture.  The partnership also encourages greater military collaboration and investment opportunities and will promote maritime projects in order to foster Iran’s role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.  The deal is practically important to both sides because it will provide China with a stable flow of Iranian oil in exchange for substantial Chinese investments in Iran’s critical infrastructure needs such as ports, high-speed rail systems, and the petrochemical industry.

Q: What has been the impact of American policies, especially its “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran to prompt Tehran to seek closer ties with China?

A: The U.S. has contributed significantly to the reason for this pact's existence.  Frankly, given his foreign policy approaches to both China and Iran, former U.S. President Donald Trump bears much of the responsibility for this strategic partnership deal.  So far, President Joe Biden has not done all that much to discourage the adversarial approach pursued by his predecessor.  Given this, neither China nor Iran should expect the U.S. to rejoin the JCPOA or lift sanctions anytime soon.  So, I think that it's fair to say that American policies and sanctions have tremendously influenced this strategic partnership.

Q: How do you assess China's ties with Western powers economically? Is China a reliable partner for a country such as Iran?

A: China’s economic ties are becoming more problematic.  What I mean by that is that concerns over unfair trade practices, unlevel competition, intellectual property issues, cybersecurity, political differences, and humanitarian concerns have negatively impacted Western views toward China.  Western powers still do business with China but are increasingly skeptical of their economic relationships.  As for China being a reliable partner for Iran, I would say yes – for now. That’s not meant to sound pessimistic, only to note that Iran needs to be realistic going into this partnership by being fully aware that historically China’s interests in the Middle East (West Asia) have mostly been based on access to oil.  While oil plays a major role in China’s interests, this is changing thanks to the Belt and Road, infrastructure investment strategies, and geopolitical considerations.

Q: Why is Biden worried about the Iran-China partnership? Why is his administration focused on containing China?  

A: Because it’s all about two of America’s highest-profile adversaries.  The strategic partnership has already improved Iran’s regional position, which immediately raised concerns in Washington.  This was underscored when India recently signaled its interest to increase economic and trade relations with Iran.  The U.S. believes that China will gain influence in the Middle East (West Asia) and help Iran evade U.S. sanctions.  It also believes that the partnership could deepen China’s influence in the Middle East (West Asia) and undermine U.S. efforts to keep Iran isolated.  It’s also about Iran since the U.S. views Iran as an adversary threatening its strategic interests and its primary partners Israel and Saudi Arabia.  While American presidential administrations may have changed, the emphasis appears to remain the same: China.  And Iran.  And Russia.  

Q: How do you see China's ties with Iran's rivals in West Asia, for instance, Saudi Arabia?  Won't China face a contradiction in the future?

A: Iran has a fairly unique place in China’s Middle East (West Asian) strategy because it’s more than just trade – it’s also military and political.  The strategic partnership will provide Iran with the ability to free itself from the economic and strategic pressures by the U.S. and its allies and enhance Iran's political influence around the Middle East (West Asia).  But note that China is looking for ways to balance its ties with Iran and its rivals in the Middle East (West Asia).  I’m not sure if Iran will face any contradictions from China in the near future given the tenuous relationship that both China and Iran have with the U.S.  That said, what would help reduce this possibility would be for continued Chinese and European Union pressure on the U.S. to immediately and unconditionally return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and to strike a deal to lift all sanctions on Iran.

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