Iran is considering a deal with China that would enable Iran to receive billions of dollars in Chinese investments while Iran would sell China heavily discounted Iranian oil for the next quarter-century, according to a document obtained by The New York Times,
The Trump administration has isolated the despotic Iranian theocratic regime with sanctions, economically crippling the the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism while other nations have been loath to support it.
But China appears to be willing to join Iran in opposition to the United States. According to the Times, the 18-page proposed agreement “also describes deepening military cooperation, potentially giving China a foothold in a region that has been a strategic preoccupation of the United States for decades.” The document reportedly “calls for joint training and exercises, joint research and weapons development and intelligence sharing.”
Last week, a spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, Zhao Lijian, hinted a deal might be pending. “China and Iran enjoy traditional friendship, and the two sides have been in communication on the development of bilateral relations,” he said. “We stand ready to work with Iran to steadily advance practical cooperation.”
Although Iran’s Parliament has reportedly not discussed the document as yet in order to bestow its approval and is divided over the issue, if the Chinese persist and invest what is reportedly $400 billion in Iran, the Trump administration might impose more sanctions on Iran.
Two Iranian officials told the Times that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, approves of the deal.
A State Department spokesman responded, “The United States will continue to impose costs on Chinese companies that aid Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism … By allowing or encouraging Chinese companies to conduct sanctionable activities with the Iranian regime, the Chinese government is undermining its own stated goal of promoting stability and peace.”
The agreement would expedite China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), which has already enabled China to gain a foothold across central Asia. Some of the projects listed in the document include “free-trade zones in Maku, in northwestern Iran; in Abadan, where the Shatt al-Arab river flows into the Persian Gulf, and on the gulf island Qeshm,” the Times reports.
Other proposals include help building a 5G telecommunications network and use of the new Chinese Global Positioning System, Beidou.
But some critics within Iran are concerned about the deal as they worry that Iran may lose control in various areas, noting that Chinese deals across Africa and Asia have left the partner countries indebted to China, leaving them vulnerable. One area of particular concern is the group of proposed port facilities in Iran, one of which, near the Persian Gulf, has strategic importance for oil transportation, as well as the United States military, because the Navy’s Fifth Fleet is headquartered in Bahrain.
That control of the port facilities would join ports China has already built around the Indian Ocean, permitting China’s navy greater access to the area. China already has ports in Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
In fall 2019, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif went to China, where his counterpart, Wang Yi, pledged to invest $280 billion in Iranian oil, gas, and petrochemical sectors. As Maya Carlin noted in an op-ed for The Daily Wire:
The PRC’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea and takeover of strategic ports in Africa under the guise of the BRI is reflective of the Chinese Communist Party’s hegemonic ambitions. The U.S. patrols that routinely counter China’s sovereignty claims over the South China Sea are often aggressively intercepted by Chinese People’s Liberation Army aircraft and vessels. China’s militarization of this body of water is just one of many predatory strategies the Chinese Communist Party uses to further its global ambitions.
At the core of PRC President Xi Jinping’s BRI project, furthermore, is his utilization of “debt-trap diplomacy.” Under “debt-trap diplomacy,” Beijing provides business loans to countries and when those countries become unable to reimburse the loans, Beijing moves in and demands control of critical bases, ports, or strategic resources, depending on the underlying location.
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