In a telephonic conversation with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Foreign Minister Qin Gang spoke of China viewing its relationship with Iran from a strategic and long-term perspective, standing ready to work with the Ebrahim Raisi leadership to implement the important consensus that has been reached by the two sides. It was jointly agreed that both countries can work towards upholding basic norms of international relations just as fairness, justice and equity, and through comprehensive implementation of the 25-year Iran-China Agreement. Investments for common prosperity can also take hold.
Gang stated that Beijing stands ready to work closely with Tehran on advancing existing comprehensive cooperation for greater peace and stability. Both countries are well positioned to take their existing comprehensive partnership to higher levels through continuous investments in domestic economies, upholding principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty, and working to achieve an equitable and just rules-based world order that is grounded in multilateralism and globalisation.
The positive trajectory of the relationship in 2023 demonstrates that both Tehran and Beijing can achieve their strategic objectives and simultaneously enhance regional and global peace. There is little doubt that there is much to gain from the 25 year China-Iran cooperation programme that was signed by the foreign ministers in March 2021. Under the agreement, fields covered for joint collaborations include information technology and industrial development as well as Tehran’s endeavour to revive the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The Iranian side has also welcomed opportunities provided by the signing of agreements such as the ‘MOU on Jointly Promoting the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Maritime Silk Road’ as well as the ‘MOU on Reinforcement of Industrial and Mineral Capacities and Investments.’ As a result, both sides stand to benefit from mutual investments in commerce, industry, development of ports, railways and services. This includes China’s direct launch of a shipping lane in 2023 that directly links to Iran’s strategically significant Chabahar port. Additionally, the Iranian oil sector is slated to benefit from $300-$400 billion as foreign direct investments from China. Hence, it is in the interest of both countries to ensure that the existing comprehensive strategic framework and its numerous domains are implemented in letter and spirit.
On the political front, both China and Iran stand for multilateralism and globalisation of the international world order with respect for state sovereignty in the absence of economic coercion being paramount. This commitment is important for a region such as the Middle East, which continues to endure severe conflict and discord due to proxy warfare. One sticking point remains the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran that was reached in 2015. On the revival of the JCPOA, Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian thanked Beijing for its constructive role and on the subject of Iran’s legitimate concerns over threats to the deal, China has urged all parties to remain committed to dialogue and negotiations to ensure that nuclear non-proliferation in the Middle East is realised. Regional peace can also be complimented by efforts on the military front as both sides remain committed to combating transnational issues such as terrorism, drugs and cross-border crimes.
At the legislative level, opportunities exist for both sides to allow exchanges between domestic parliamentary bodies and increase participation in relevant international and regional organisations such as the Asian Parliamentary Assembly and the Inter-parliamentary Union. China has highly encouraged Iran’s participation in global forums as it is directly linked with greater equity in the international system and allowing for voices of developing nations to be heard. Beijing for example, has appreciated Tehran’s participation as a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which aims to improve socioeconomic outcomes across Asia. Its achievements over the past few years have also been notable, which includes developing a portfolio of 202 projects in 33 countries with a total value of $38.8 billion in sectors ranging from water resource development, education, energy and public health. Joint efforts by both sides to contribute to the well-being of the developing world is precisely what is needed.
Politically, both countries have addressed slanderous campaigns against each other with maturity and wisdom. Iran’s dismissal of criticism of China’s Xinjiang policy resulted in Tehran being one of the 50 countries signing a letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) defending China. Similarly, on Hong Kong, Iran was one of the 53 countries that backed the Hong Kong Security Law at the United Nations. Such policy stances that are based on mutual trust and understandings act as important takeaways for countries wishing to see a less confrontational world order. Many states that have expressed neutrality on the Ukraine War, for example, can follow the example of Beijing and Tehran looking to position their foreign policies in a largely tumultuous and confrontational world.
With Foreign Minister Qin Gang inviting Hossein Amir-Abdollahian to Beijing, it is expected that bilateral relationship will further blossom and strategic foresight will enable both sides to contribute to a more just world order.
The writer is an Assistant Research Associate at IPRI