China has remained Iran's top trading partner in what's become a crucial lifeline for the Islamic Republic, which is even turning into military and weapons supply assistance.
Early this week The New York Times reported that Iran and China have concluded lengthy negotiations for a long term trade and military partnership which is expected to see some $400 billion worth of Chinese investments pour into the Islamic Republic over the next 25 years.
Based upon a previous 2016 agreement which deepened ties and saw presidents Xi and Rouhani exchange visits, the deal has been described as 'secretive' - though Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and others has batted down the idea that there's anything secretive to it at all, also given they've been very public in admitting a deal is pending, eager to defiantly show Washington that Iran has powerful international backers.
But no doubt Iranian officials have to be concerned over either US or Israeli potential attempts to diplomatically sabotage the deepening Iran-China ties and cooperation. For starters, over the past year Chinese shipping companies have come under sanctions for helping Iran evade US sanctions on exports.
Nonetheless the Times framed it as having been "quietly" negotiated, also as it's faced controversy in Iranian parliament:
Iran and China have quietly drafted a sweeping economic and security partnership that would clear the way for billions of dollars of Chinese investments in energy and other sectors, undercutting the Trump administration’s efforts to isolate the Iranian government because of its nuclear and military ambitions.
The partnership, detailed in an 18-page proposed agreement obtained by The New York Times, would vastly expand Chinese presence in banking, telecommunications, ports, railways and dozens of other projects. In exchange, China would receive a regular — and, according to an Iranian official and an oil trader, heavily discounted — supply of Iranian oil over the next 25 years.
And what's sure to have the Pentagon and US intelligence worried, is this clearly extends China's influence and military footprint in the Middle East, where it's already long well-known to be quietly supporting Assad and the Syrian Army.
Like Russia, China has for the most part been on the opposite side of US proxy wars in the region. And more immediately, such an oil for trade and investment partnerships deal would help Iran more effectively survive US sanctions, and further sever it from any reliance on Europe.
Below are are further fields of cooperation expected under the massive and ambitious deal, which reports say could be inked as early as March of next year:
- Chinese assistance to Iran in rolling out its 5G network.
- Military cooperation, including joint training exercises and defense tech development.
- Chinese access to strategic Iranian ports in the Persian Gulf, such as at Jask - a huge strategic boost for Beijing.
- And in turn Iranian access to China's growing string of ports lining South Asia.
- Possible rollout of Chinese and Russian electronic warfare capabilities, including anti-missile defense shields, crucial in defending against possible Israeli or US attacks.
Despite all these advantages of sanctions-racked Iran, critics both within and outside the country have argued it essentially constitutes "selling off" the country to China at a moment it's greatly weakened by sanctions and finds itself in an essential 'state of war' posture with Washington.
But in desperation, it appears this is all a risk Iran's leaders are willing to take, given that while facing down US and Israeli military superiority, they see it as past time to do a deal with "the devil you know".