China-Iran deal adds new dimension to Middle East chess game

Trump on IranChina-Iran deal. Billions of dollars of Chinese investment could be heading Iran’s way after the two countries signed a 25-year co-operation deal that promises to give Beijing a foothold in the Middle East. By undermining the impact of US-driven sanctions, it could also thwart Washington’s hopes of bringing Tehran back to the 2015 nuclear deal. From Beijing’s perspective, it adds a missing link to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Signed in Tehran over the weekend, the China-Iran deal secures the two nations’ status as strategic partners, according to Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, who also reaffirmed Beijing’s support for Iran against US sanctions. “Our relations with Iran will not be affected by the current situation, but will be permanent and strategic. Iran decides independently on its relations with other countries and is not like some countries that change their position with one phone call,” Wang added pointedly.

The latest version of the China-Iran deal is believed to based on an 18-page draft that was drawn up last year. If so, it will vastly expand Chinese presence in banking, telecommunications, ports, railways and dozens of other projects. In exchange, China would receive a regular — and, according to an Iranian official and an oil trader, heavily discounted — supply of Iranian oil over the next 25 years.

Iranian President Hassan RouhaniThe original document additionally proposed a deepening of military cooperation between the two countries and called for joint training and exercises, joint research and weapons development and intelligence sharing — all to fight ‘the lopsided battle with terrorism, drug and human trafficking and cross-border crimes’. The outline of a China-Iran deal was first proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, during a visit to Iran in 2016  and was approved by President Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet in June, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said last week.