As Washington is mulling how not to punish China for violating Hong Kong’s autonomy law, the global economy holding its breath over any possible thaw in the trade war.

The Sino-Iran geopolitical and economic partnership plan will prove to be another thorn in the way of normalising U.S.-China ties.

Any kind of easing of U.S. ties with Iran seems to be out of the question despite the looming November 3rd U.S. elections with contenders holding different positions on Iran.

China Radio International published a report on Friday on the message of the IRGC drills, code-named Payambar Azam 14 (Great Prophet 14), to America, saying: “You are under range of Iranian missiles,’ while some outlets describe the drills as “Iran’s Military bragging”.

In the middle of heightened tensions between U.S. and what media outlets are referring to as “Iran-China axis”, here’s a look at some of the headlines and analyses of some of the foreign media outlets:

Iran will Expand Nuclear Programs & Won’t Talk to U.S.
(New York Times – August 2)

In a televised speech, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that negotiating with Washington over Iran’s nuclear program would only help Trump get re-elected. That was Trump’s reason for suggesting such talks in the first place, the Leader said.

”This old man who is in charge in America apparently used negotiations with North Korea as propaganda,” the Leader was quoted as saying, referring to Washington’s oldest president in history.

The newspaper pointed that the Leader directed his closest economic advisers to cement a 25-year military and economic partnership with China. Quoting Ayatollah Khamenei who said European countries involved with the nuclear deal were unreliable, and that their attempt to salvage the pact, such as creating a secure financial channel (INSTEX) so that Iran could maintain a limited amount of trade were “useless games”.

In conclusion, the writer points out that since the U.S. pulled out of the nuclear deal in May 2018, Iran’s currency has dropped sharply and inflation has surged, with budget deficits of nearly 30 percent this fiscal year and oil sales plummeting to 300,000 barrels a day.

What China’s New Deal with Iran says about its ambitions in the Region
(TIME Magazine – July 29)

The writer talks about partnership between “America’s principal global rival and its long-term antagonist in the Middle East (Iran) undermining White House attempts to isolate Iran on world stage.”

The op-ed says about the leaked document in Farsi, whose authenticity is not confirmed yet, but which “could boost Chinese investments in Iran to $400 billion”, pointing that Majlis approval will be needed.

Pointing out that comments from China on the deal have been scarce, the article throws light on January 2016 origins of the deal during China’s Xi Jinping’s visit to Tehran just a year after JCPOA was signed and before U.S. pullout from the deal.

“Beijing invested less than $27 billion in Iran from 2005 to 2019, according to American Enterprise Institute, and annual investment has declined every year since 2016. Last year China invested just $1.54 billion in Iran – a paltry sum compared to the $3.72 billion it invested in the UAE or the $5.36 billion in Saudi Arabia.”

Pointing out that China’s oil imports from Iran plummeted 89 percent year-on-year this March, the author asks a few questions:

Why does Iran want a deal with China now? The writer goes back to “maximum pressure” sanctions and how this move has failed to achieve its objectives, including eliminating Iran’s ballistic missile program; blocking Iran’s regional influence; …” However, the writer points out that the sanctions have pushed Iran into a deep recession but fails to underline the main objective of sanctions: to topple the Islamic Republic.

What’s in it for China: The article mentions that as of 2017 China is the world’s largest crude importer and has sought to diversify its sources of supply. Iran’s geography opens “an additional terrestrial route for Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative” and it complements “sprawling global infrastructure development strategy adopted by Chinese government in 2013.”

Quoting Jon Alterman, Director of the Middle East Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), TIME says: “China does not need Iran, but Iran is useful to China.” This is in part for Tehran’s enmity with Washington, points the article.

Where else is China engaged in the Middle East? Iran is one of the five principal partners China has in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia (largest trade-wise), UAE comes second as it sees itself a logistics hub for BRI; Egypt for Chinese concerns for transit through the Suez canal; China cooperates with Israel on security and counter terrorism; and Iraq which is China’s third-largest oil supplier.

Will China overtake U.S. as dominant global power in Middle East? With trillions of dollars spent on wars since 2001, more than 800,000 killed, the U.S. desires to downsize its military presence in the region and this policy will continue no matter who wins November’s elections. “But that doesn’t mean China wants to fill the void.”

Pointing to studies, the article says, “China’s interest in Iran are predominantly economic, and take priority over security and geopolitical interests.”

Potential China-Iran Pact has Major Implications for Pakistan
(Al-Monitor – July 29)

Specialising in news and analysis from the west Asia Al-Monitor site talks about various reports about the 18-page leaked document fed by the media hype. Mahmoud Vaezi, the chief of staff for President Rouhani, has been quoted as saying the final agreement could be reached by the end of the current Iranian year in March 2021.

The article points out that since Iran and Pakistan are neighbours the deal will have main implications and benefits for Pakistan.

The writer goes on to compare Sino-Iranian $400 billion partnership with $46 billion Beijing has set out to invest in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Quoting Iranian envoy to Pakistan Mehdi Honardoost who has said: “We are ready to be part of CPEC with all our capabilities and resources,” Honardoost added. “maybe without the energy and transit support of Iran, the multi-billion dollar project will not reach its final stages.”

Secondly, the implication that China could be developing Chabahar port could be beneficial for both port cities of Gwadar and Chabahar.

The writer talks about China’s plans to develop more ports in Iran, including Bandar-e-Jask port – 350 km from Chabahar Port – which is situated outside the Gulf of Hormuz and is critical to global oil transit.

The comment concludes that Iran may be looking for support from UN Security Council members to avoid economic sanctions rather than merely “looking east”.

What Fake Aircraft Carrier Reveals about Iran Plans to Take on U.S.
(BUSINESS INSIDER – July 29)

Based in New York City, Business Insider is an American financial business news website. It analyses if a military intervention by the U.S. would be feasible under the circumstances.

It refers to the recent drill by the IRGC Navy (IRGCN) named “The Great Prophet 14” in which a replica of a U.S. Navy Nimitz-class carrier was destroyed. The military exercises were held in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf region which the article in the conservative outlet described:

“Iran’s waters are divided between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. They are connected by the Strait of Hormuz, which is only 21 miles wide at its narrowest point and is the busiest shipping lane for petroleum in the world. The region as a whole has over half of the world’s proven crude oil reserves.”

The analysis points out that in the event of war Iran’s Navy and IRGC Navy “would most likely immediately set out to mine the Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf. Thousands of Iran’s estimated 5,000 mines would be deployed as quickly as possible.”

The article anticipates that the next step would be deployment and launch of Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal, the largest and most diverse in the Middle East with some reportedly able to reach as far as 2,000 kilometres.

“Regardless, any conflict with Iran will be extremely costly,” the writer also pointed to the geographical advantage of Iran, dedicated soldiers, and the “number of proxies willing to create chaos in neighbouring counties like Iraq and Yemen.”

The article concludes by quoting an expert from The Washington Institute Farzin Nadimi: “The IRGCN is dug in and will be a difficult enemy to destroy. It won’t be easy for the U.S. to turn the tide.”

Author: Salman Parviz
Editor’s Note: The article reflects the author’s opinion only, and not necessarily the views of the editorial opinion of Belt & Road News.