The economic bond between Iran and China is forced upon them, while their core interests lie elsewhere

The economic bond between Iran and China is forced upon them, while their core interests lie elsewhere

Fereydoun Majlessi (source: Fereydoun Majlessi)

In an interview with the Iranian newspaper Morning Star the foreign policy analyst Fereydoun Majlessi explained that the motives for the visit of the Iranian foreign minister to China are mostly economical. According to Majlessi Iran’s greater interest lies in economic opening to the world and not in isolation and resistance, which make it more vulnerable to unequal relations in the world politics and economy

Setare-ye Sobh, 17 January 2022

On 14 and 15 January 2022 the Iranian foreign minister Amir Abdollahian visited Beijing and met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. The visit was widely reported in Iran and the world as the beginning of the implementation of the 2021 “strategic agreement” between Iran and China. The visit took place also in the context of the ongoing Vienna talks on the renewal of the nuclear agreement between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the group of six countries (USA, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China) and intensive consultations of the Chinese and Iranan foreign ministries with countries from the Middle East over the evolution of Middle Eastern politics. 

During Abdollahian’s visit there were few announcements of concrete new steps in the Iranan-Chinese relations. There have been very few concrete agreements between the two countries following the signing of “the strategic agreement” in March 2021. The only more important step has been Iran’s admission to the Shanghai Security Organization, which was lauded by some as a blow in the face of American imperialism and by others as a dangerous move towards the authoritarian camp in international relations and departure from the founding principle of the Islamic Republic “Neither East, Nor West’. Most likely, closer to the truth is the opinion of the Iranian foreign policy expert Diako Hosseini, who gave an interview to the Iranian Labour News Agency in September 2021 and the Persian Bridge of Friendship republished it: “There are limits to the benefits from Iran’s membership to Shanghai Cooperation Organization”. 

In this context of relative media hype, but much less substance about the Iranian foreign minister’s visit in China, Fereydoun Majlessi commented on the reasons behind the visit, on the core interests of Iran and China and suggested that Iran’s reintegration in the world economy as a stronger economically country is much more important than posing as a country of anti-Western resistance.

This article was published on 17th January 2022 at the first page of the Iranian newspaper “Morning Star” (Setare-ye sobh). 

Mr. Majlessi, in your opinion, the media talk about the 25-year agreement between Iran and China has been controversial from the very beginning. What is the reason for the recent visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian to China and the issues raised during this period?

According to my initial impression, what is known as the 25-year agreement between Iran and China is in fact a memorandum of understanding, which means that generalities have been agreed upon and transformed into a document for future cooperation. In fact, we have signed a memorandum of understanding, according to which the parties will later make a promise to develop trade and investment relations, and so on. Everything that will be done in the future will be in the form of a contract, which must be approved by the (Iranian) parliament, because the agreements with foreign companies must be approved by the Parliament. . 

The branding of this memorandum as a 25-year agreement between Iran and China is mostly internal propaganda. Neither China is looking for ambiguity, nor will the other country transform such a general memorandum into a long-term agreement. China is a large country that has become the second largest economy in the world; it is the world’s first exporter. China’s main markets are in the United States, Europe, the Arab world and Israel. As a country of an average category, Iran has a limited role in China’s trade relations. In times of severe isolation, China was Iran’s breathing space in terms of foreign trade, and in the face of sanctions, China was able to meet some of Iran’s needs for trade dynamics. Therefore, in the specific circumstances of our country, the relations with China were important for the Iranian economy.

Can the Foreign Minister’s visit to China be seen through the prism of China’s role in the Vienna talks?

It may seem like it. But this approach is a very well-known story at international forums.  

The purpose of the Iranian Foreign Minister’s visit to China is related to the fact that the Chinese economy is important to Iran. China is almost the sole buyer of our oil and petrochemical products. Without China, without the export and import with it, Iran will be in trouble. 

The Islamic Republic of Iran wants to assess the situation in order to free itself from the burden of its Middle East engagements in a moment, when the United States wants to make concessions. Iran aims to get better conditions for trade with China. Iran is a second-rate and mid-level country in the world, but it has potential to be rich. China’s future demand for Iranian energy and resources is high, and Iran’s conditions for exports are more relaxed. Hence, China is also developing her privileged international relations with Iran. In fact, these economic relations are forced on Iran and on China. In fact for Iran this relation is somehow obligatory and for China its national interests are important.

What is the role of China and Russia’s interests in maintaining tensions between Iran and the United States? To what extent do the divergences in this regard are shown during the Vienna talks?

This view is pessimistic. Neither Russia, which benefits from continuing the Iran-West dispute to monopolize gas exports and to sell internationally more Russian oil at the expense of Iranian oil sales quotas, nor China’s use of Iran’s monopoly on foreign trade, rule out Iran’s reintegration into the world economy. I do not believe that these two countries’ gains from the Iranian isolation are so effective. In my view, Iran’s “normal” economic and political conditions can benefit these countries even more. Just as China benefits more from relations with Japan, Germany and the United States, or from relations with the Arabs, because both sides are rich. Iran has the potential to be rich and to have industrial and economic development. Iran can be a bigger customer for China and Russia under healthy and non-stressful conditions. 

The tension with the West that has arisen is over some of the beliefs and feelings and slogans that our country has reached today. In such circumstances, foreign countries take interest. Under the circumstances, Russia can replace Iranian energy with its oil and gas in global energy markets. The conditions of emergency and isolation of Iran benefit powers such as China and Russia. It does not mean that they are interested in continuing these conditions to enjoy this benefit. But in the event of normalization of actual and potential economic conditions, exchanges under natural conditions are such that this benefit is nothing compared to it and will be more profitable for both parties. A rich Iran will be more important to the United States, Russia, China, Japan and Europe. 

The question is why some people in the country are faced with the idea of ​​fighting instead of economic development, that is, they prefer defensive development to economic development. They should know that by economic development in the country, better defensive development will follow.

Photo: The Iranian foreign minister Amir Abollahian and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi (source: YouTube)

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