By Mohammad Ali Saki

Iran-China partnership is a combined battle against Washington: columnist

April 16, 2021 - 15:16

TEHRAN - A Pakistani columnist says that Iran-China partnership pact represents a combined battle against Washington.

“The Iran-China comprehensive strategic partnership means a lot for Beijing and Tehran that seems a combined battle against Washington,” Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai tells the Tehran Times.

Yousafzai, the author of “The Troubled Triangle: the U.S.-Pakistan Relations under the Taliban’s Shadow”, also says that “except China, other countries of the region can’t go against the U.S. sanctions, thus it makes China a better partner for Iran to export its oil and gas to its markets.”

On March 27, Iran and China signed a comprehensive long-term cooperation document with the aim of cementing their economic and political alliance as both countries. The partnership, which is envisioned to significantly expand the two countries' economic cooperation, is seen to be a great blow to Washington’s efforts to suppress the Iranian economy and therefore it has raised concerns in the United States.

Apart from economic cooperation, many predict the partnership would include security and military collaboration between Iran and China.

“The agreement also calls for security cooperation and an intelligence partnership,” according to Yousafzai.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q:  What is the importance of the 25-year strategic partnership between China and Iran? How can it impact the region, including Iran's neighbors?

A: The Iran-China comprehensive strategic partnership means a lot for Beijing and Tehran that seems a combined battle against Washington. Both counties are less or more are under the U.S. sanctions and competition. Iran needs market for its oil and gas while China needs large amount of energy for its huge industry. Except China, other countries of the region can’t go against the U.S. sanctions, thus it makes China a better partner for Iran to export its oil and gas to its markets. Besides, it will bring Chinese investment to Iran which will help boost its sanctions-crippled economy. The U.S. latest sanctions following scrapping the JCPOA, Iran’s economy is quite in tatters. Apart from economic gains, this partnership than can convert to a security alliance in future will serve both the states interests against its adversary — the U.S. Apart from economic cooperation, the agreement also calls for security cooperation and an intelligence partnership. Most importantly, it projects an image of Iran’s strength and represents an attempt to break out of the diplomatic isolation imposed by the United States.

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

A: China has deep economic relations with Asian countries. Markets all over the world including South Asia are dumped with the Chinese goods. China is the largest trade partners of many of the Asian countries including Japan with whom China’s trade value is around $400 billion. China is steadily laying the groundwork for its ambitious ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) program. Given that it is an expansive regional infrastructure and connectivity initiative, the dismantling of trade barriers throughout the OBOR region is important. China realizes this, and has been actively pursuing free trade agreements with all key stakeholders. OBOR is now labeled the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to reflect the fact that it will connect Asia, Europe, and Africa along five maritime and land routes. This includes two South Asian economic corridors: Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) and China-Pakistan (CPEC). As a result, China is actively seeking to further improve its trade relations with South Asia. Deeper connectivity, once achieved under the BRI, will boost the development and commercial aspirations of South Asia’s lagging economies, and open up new markets for China. As for as China’s reliability for Iran is concerned so international politics spin around interests. And secondly history matters in this regard. Having convergence if interests, Iran hopes that China will potentially tip the balance in its favor. Moreover, Iranian officials appear to believe that China’s interests are closely tied to Iran.

Q: Do you predict China can economically surpass the U.S. in coming years? Do you also foresee a clash over the Chinese power?

A: Reports by economic experts say China is set to overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy a few years earlier than anticipated due to the coronavirus pandemic. The latest GDP reports show that of the U.S. fell by 2.3% in 2020, while China’s grew by 2.3% amid the Corona pandemic. The UK-based Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) said China's "skilful" management of Covid-19 would boost its relative growth compared to the U.S. and Europe in coming years. On the other hand, the U.S. economy has been hit hard by the world's worst coronavirus epidemic in terms of sheer numbers.

As for as a clash between Washington and Beijing is concerned, it is certain where they may fall in the Thucydides trap. China has shown the ability and the intention to increasingly close its power gap with the United States both economically and militarily. The economic competition is global while the military competition is regional where China wants to secure its backyards like Western Pacific from the U.S. military threats. In the geopolitical hotspots of the South and East China Seas, Beijing seems to be putting into practice Sun Tzu’s stratagem of subduing the enemy without fighting. Without becoming involved a kinetic form of war, where U.S. military firepower would be currently hard to match, Beijing has attempted to militarize the geopolitical space in the western Pacific and make it costlier for the United States to stay the course. 

Q: What are the effects of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative on the region?

A: China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will have profound impacts on the region’s geo-political and geo-economic situation. Beyond its more obvious impacts, the BRI has also influenced several other aspects indirectly, including the overall regional order, infrastructure financing, and the nature of trade ties between many regional states. The most important geo-economic impact of the BRI relates to connectivity. Previously, different modes of regional connectivity were often viewed in isolation from each other. Land connectivity, for example, was viewed exclusively through the lens of drivable roads and multi-lane highways, without any consideration for maritime transport capacity. Throughout the Asian region, and particularly in relation to the land-locked countries of South and Central Asia, the focus was mainly on land-based links.

Q: Is Pakistan ready to play a key role in regional economy? What are the challenges and opportunities when it comes to Pakistan’s economy and infrastructure?

A: Pakistan has achieved steady growth since 2013 in the aftermath of a credit facility agreement with the IMF. Economic growth slowed in 2019 due to measures taken by the authorities to address macroeconomic imbalances. In 2020, Pakistan's economy collapsed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, reporting a negative growth balance of 0.4%. According to the IMF's October 2020 forecast, growth is expected to resume in 2021, estimated at 1% of GDP, and stabilize in 2022 at 4%. In its most recent January 2021 update of the World Economic Outlook, the IMF revised its GDP growth projections for Pakistan to 1.5% in 2021 and 4% in 2022 (representing a difference from the October 2020 WEO projections of 0.5% ain 2021). While domestic economic activity is expected to rebound as blocking measures are removed, Pakistan's short-term economic outlook is subdued. However, the revenue Pakistan is receiving from the oversees Pakistanis are substantial and more than $2 billion per month consecutively in the last ten months which is stabilizing Pakistani economy. Nonetheless, serious measure needed to be adopted to help sustain the economy and the inflation in the country. 

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