Hic sunt dracones

Is Iran set to forfeit its national interests to China?

A partnership planned between Iran and China is intended to strategically link the two countries for a quarter of a century. It is unclear, however, exactly what the alliance will entail and whether its lofty ambitions can indeed be fulfilled. Iranian politicians of almost every persuasion remain highly sceptical. By Ali Fathollah-Nejad

Many uncertainties remain about the planned 25-year "comprehensive strategic partnership" currently in negotiation between Tehran and Beijing. A lack of transparency regarding the final details of this cooperation project, which after all touches on sensitive economic, military and security policy areas, has sparked a great deal of uproar in Iran – among the general public, but also across the entire political spectrum.

Even Parliament, which has been dominated by hardliners since the February 2020 elections, has been harshly critical. This is all the more surprising, given that revolutionary leader Ali Khamenei is the most prominent advocate of an eastward orientation for the Islamic Republic, the essence of which is long-term strategic partnership with China.

To appease the MPs, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has indicated that the agreement will definitely be submitted to parliament for ratification as soon as the final version has been negotiated by both sides.

An 18-page copy of the treaty drafted by the Iranian Foreign Ministry in June, which lists in fairly general terms how cooperation is to be extended and deepened, has been circulating recently in the media. According to unconfirmed information, China is to invest 800 billion dollars in Iran over the next 25 years. Beijing is thus expected to expand its already strong presence in the country across all sectors: banking, telecommunications, ports, railways and a dozen other projects.

In return, China will continue to receive Iranian oil at a preferential rate for a quarter of a century. Military cooperation between the two countries is also to be intensified; in addition to joint exercises, armaments research and the exchange of intelligence information are planned.

Caricature of the week by Mana Neystani: Iran-China cooperation agreement (photo: Mana Neystani)

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