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China: Iran’s Friend in Sanctions, Ally in Post-Sanctions Era
By Ebrahim Rahimpour, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Asia, Oceania, and CIS Countries
Xi Jinping, Secretary General of China’s Communist Party and the President of the People’s Republic of China, is to visit the Islamic Republic of Iran on January 22 and 23, upon an official invitation by his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, and after paying similar visits to Saudi Arabia and Egypt. During his stay in Tehran, the Chinese president will be heading a high-ranking political and economic delegation. Jinping’s accompanying delegation will consist of a large number of senior Communist Party and government officials, including members of the Political Bureau of the Communist party, deputies to prime minister, ministers and high-ranking officials, as well as senior officials of major Chinese state-run organs and companies. Xi Jinping’s visit to Iran will come 14 years following a visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran by the former Chinese president, Jiang Zemin. It will be also his fifth official meeting with Rouhani after the latter was elected president. Previous meetings between the two heads of state occurred on the sidelines of international and regional meetings in Bishkek (2013), Jakarta (April 2015), and New York (during the current year), and also during Rouhani’s official visit to Beijing in June 2014.
According to available historical documents, official relations between Iran and China date back to more than 2,000 years ago and to the time when the Ashkanid dynasty ruled the Iranian Plateau and China was under the rule of the Han dynasty. Since that time and especially through the historical Silk Road, trade and cultural exchanges prospered in the course of time between these two ancient and pacifist cultures on the two sides of the Old Continent, and those relations have continued up to the present time. Following reestablishment of political relations between the two countries in modern times and since 45 years ago, especially following victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, bilateral relations between Tehran and Beijing entered a new phase, which was marked with all-out expansion of cooperation between the two countries in all fields on the basis of mutual respect, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs and protection of both sides’ national interests.
In this way, due to numerous historical and cultural commonalities as well as abundance of common political views between the two sides on various regional and international issues, on the one hand, and the complementary role of the two countries’ economies, on the other hand, necessary ground was provided for all-out growth and development of relations under guidance of the two countries’ leaderships. These relations have stood the test of time over more than three decades now.
By implementing correct economic policies since the late 1970s and also through perseverance of its nation, the People’s Republic of China has turned into a great and effective power in the world. As a result, China is currently the world’s second biggest economy, the biggest exporter of technical and engineering goods and services in the world, and a country with the biggest foreign exchange reserves. China, at the same time, is the biggest importer of crude oil, which makes it the main driving force behind the world’s economic growth. The country is also among the biggest consumers of energy and its huge consumer market, with a population of 1.4 billion, has been always a top priority for commodity exporters from other parts of the world. As a result, during the past years, China has come up as the foremost trade partner of Iran, the biggest customer of our country’s crude oil and the most important market for Iran’s goods and non-oil exports.
As restrictions and sanctions imposed on the Iranian nation by the Western countries escalated during past years under pretext of the country’s peaceful nuclear program, China’s high economic, industrial and technological potential provided a valuable opportunity for development of bilateral relations between Tehran and Beijing. Such potential can also form a strong foundation for further development of those relations in the future. On the other hand, and in view of measures taken by the new Iranian administration, which culminated in the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a new chapter will be opened in Tehran’s relations with Beijing. Therefore, there is hope that the Chinese president’s visit to Tehran will take place in forthcoming days and with the removal of sanctions, will help elevate bilateral cooperation to the level of strategic ties in all fields.
During his stay in Iran, Xi will hold bilateral meetings with his Iranian counterpart and also with other senior officials of the Islamic Republic. The two countries are also expected to sign a document on developing strategic relations between Iran and China. Chinese delegates and their Iranian counterparts will sign about 17 additional documents, including agreements and memorandums of understanding in political and economic fields to boost bilateral cooperation in such areas as energy, industry and mine, technology, investment, finance and banking, transport, culture and media, environment, and development of manpower, which will undoubtedly usher the two countries’ cooperation in a whole new phase. The two countries will also have the opportunity to share views and efforts on regional and international issues of interests, and conduct consultations on the new idea of the Chinese president with regard to reviving the Silk Road, which has come to be known as the “One Belt, One Road” initiative.
Due to its special and strategic position in West Asia, Iran can be a trustworthy partner for China in order to realize the idea of reviving the Silk Road both on land and in sea as bedrock for its own economic development and development of those countries that are located along the road, especially by providing communication and transportation facilities.
Last but not least, the forthcoming visit to Tehran by Xi Jinping, as the first leader of a great foreign power to come to the country after the implementation of JCPOA began, is also important from another viewpoint, especially due to recent developments in our country’s relations with some neighboring states and existing crises in the Middle East region. For this reason, the visit has drawn a lot of attention from experts on regional issues and international analysts because analysts believe that the visit is a sign of Beijing’s new approach to bilateral relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran as a big power in West Asia and in the sensitive regions of Persian Gulf and Middle East. It goes without saying that such a new approach in Iran’s relations with China will soon reveal its important impacts on developments in the region and international system.
Key Words: China, Iran, Friend, Sanctions, Post-Sanctions Era, Xi Jinping, Visit, Common Political Views, Economic Policies, Western Countries, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Silk Road, Persian Gulf, Middle East, West Asia, Rahimpour
*Link for Further Reading: Iran and Silk Road Economic Belt: Attractions and Ambiguities
*Photo Credit: Reuters/Mark Ralston