A comment from BESA on Iranian – Chinese relationship

Why Iran Is Turning East

By
August 26, 2020

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: US pressure might have been an immediate impetus behind the recently leaked Iran-China deal, but the two states have deep historical and ideological ties that drive them together. With that said, the Iranian regime’s ultimate goals will not allow for outsized Chinese influence. Any attempts by Beijing to thwart Iran’s progress toward those goals will not be tolerated by Tehran, meaning the success of the deal is far from guaranteed.

Beijing and Tehran are preparing a whopping 25-year economic and security deal according to which China would invest up to $400 billion in Iran. We need not go into details on the proposed agreement as it has already been discussed at length, but it is worthwhile to delve into the geopolitical and historical background that drives the two countries toward one another.

When the provisional document was leaked, many analysts expressed the opinion that China and Iran are now more closely aligned because of increased US pressure. This is an understandable assumption, but there is much more going on. Iran’s turn to China did not appear out of the blue; it has been in preparation for years. The deal represents a logical reaction of the Iranian political elite to the changing geopolitical order in Eurasia, namely the rise of China.

Like most states in the world, Iran is interested in engaging with the emerging Eurasian powerhouse. China was Iran’s major trading partner during the administration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who initiated the Islamic Republic’s “Look to the East” program.

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Iran is being opportunistic, as the center of global energy consumption is shifting from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific. Between 2017 and 2040, oil and gas demand is projected to grow significantly and Iran quite naturally wants a share of that market.

Tehran’s shift to the East is also driven by a lack of options. The regime’s relations with Russia are generally described as close, but their mutual distrust in a number of geopolitical theaters prevents Tehran from “going north” to seek Russia’s Eurasian alternative. Nor is the collective West an option as pressure from the US continues to mount. That leaves China as the only viable alternative through which to alleviate Iran’s difficult economic situation.

Read more at https://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/iran-china-deal/