When reports of a long-term investment deal with Iran were published last September, china`s foreign ministry quickly dismissed the issue. When asked again last week, a spokesman, Zhao Lijian, left open the possibility that a deal was underway. The proposed partnership has nevertheless sparked a lively debate in Iran. Zarif, the foreign minister who travelled to Beijing last October to negotiate the deal, was confronted last week in parliament with hostile questions on the matter. Sino-Iranian relations will inevitably reshape the region`s political landscape to the benefit of Iran and China, further undermining US influence. In fact, the deal allows China to play a bigger role in one of the world`s most important regions. The strategic landscape has changed since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. In the new regional order, transnational identities based on religious and sectarian divisions have spread and changed the nature of power dynamics. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced in early July that China and Iran were negotiating a 25-year strategic deal to cooperate more closely in the coming decades. Last week, news of a long-term strategic pact between China and Iran sparked riots both in Iranian public opinion and among politicians, supporters and opponents who expressed strong opinions on social media. Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sounded the alarm when he warned of a public backlash that totally rejects the deal if the government does not consult lawmakers before the deal is signed. In response, government officials were quick to condemn his proclamation as fake news, saying there was nothing secret about the deal. On the contrary, the Iranian government viewed the deal as an important diplomatic achievement for the country in a period of growing international isolation.
China has become the new polarizing factor in Iranian politics. The most recent topic is the 25-year iran-China deal that, according to Stanford University`s Abbas Milani, will make Iran a “colony” of China — a contract even worse than the 1872 Reuter concession, which gave a British businessman control of Iran`s roads, communications, and natural resources. Opposition to the proposed deal with China comes from politicians across the political spectrum. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described it as “a suspicious secret deal” and Reza Pahlavi, the son of Iran`s deposed Shah Shah, criticized it as a shameful treaty that “brings foreign soldiers to our soil.” Despite rumors and speculation on social media about Iran`s intention to give China control of its southern islands, allow China to build a military base on its soil, and sell oil and gas to China at a discount, there is no provision in the deal to draw such conclusions. Part of this utility comes from Tehran`s hostility to Washington, he adds. Rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran could engage U.S. military equipment in Persian Gulf waters and extract resources from the Western Pacific, where China is trying to establish maritime dominance.
In addition, differences of opinion on how to approach Iran`s nuclear program are driving a rift between the UNITED STATES and its allies — a blessing for China, whose investment-centric foreign policy relies more on bilateral partnerships than broader alliances. In January 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Tehran to open a “new chapter” in relations between the two countries. The visit came a year after an agreement was reached between the United States and other world powers to stem Iran`s nuclear program, known as the JCPOA. and two before President Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the agreement. The partnership announced by China and Iran set itself the goal of developing trade relations worth $600 billion, an imaginative figure that was still ahead of the United States.