During a joint meeting last week in Wuxi, China, the foreign ministers of China and Iran announced that the two countries are beginning to implement a 25-year comprehensive economic and security partnership that they signed in March 2021, after several years of negotiations.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian have not yet officially publicized any details of the strategic partnership, however, according to a leaked draft of the agreement – circulated by The New York Times in 2020 – Iran will allegedly receive $400 billion worth of Chinese investments over the next 25 years.
Those investments are intended to fund Iran’s key economic sectors which include energy, telecommunications, defense, infrastructure, banking, petrochemicals, railways and ports. In addition, there will be an expansion of military cooperation and assistance with joint training and intelligence sharing, according to the leaked draft.
In return, Iran will purportedly commit to providing regular and heavily discounted oil, gas and possibly other natural resources to China.
Over the last two decades, China has been Iran’s largest trading partner, with the total volume of trade between the two nations totaling some $20 billion.
In March 2021, Amos Yadlin, Israel’s former IDF chief of military intelligence and head of the Institute for National Security Studies, expressed concern over the military and security aspects of the strategic agreement.
“One of the most worrying clauses in the agreement between Iran and China is the intelligence sharing,” Yadlin warned. “China is putting itself in a place that, until today, it had not been before. On a fundamental level, China opposes an Iranian nuclear bomb but, on the other hand, it is not helping to stop Iran. Iran, too, needs the political support, which China has to stop the United States from pressuring it. The Chinese understand that the Biden administration is not the Trump administration, and they can be much more aggressive.”
In remarks after the meeting on Friday, Wang Yi said China is ready to work with Iran, according to Chinese state media. He emphasized the need to “strengthen communication and coordinate actions, constantly enrich the connotation of the China-Iran comprehensive strategic partnership and open a new era for the development of bilateral ties for the next 50 years.”
His Iranian counterpart affirmed the agreement as well.
“Iran firmly supports China in safeguarding its core interests and firmly adheres to the one-China policy,” Abdollahian said at the meeting. “Iran highly appreciates and will actively participate in the joint building of the Belt and Road…developing relations with China is Iran’s top decision.”
China’s $400 billion investment into Iran’s infrastructure holds mutual interest for both countries and will reportedly cement Iran’s position as a critical link along the “New Silk Road” of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The objective is primarily to better facilitate Sino-Iranian trade and business, according to media reports.
And while support for the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics in February has become a contentious issue, Iran has confirmed its position to stand with Beijing, despite growing global pressure to boycott the event due to reports of China’s human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups.
“The Iranian side is firmly committed to advancing Iran-China cooperation and staunchly supports the Beijing Winter Olympics,” Abdollahian said.
At the Wuxi meeting, both parties also agreed to expand cooperation on energy, infrastructure, production capacity, science and technology, health care, agriculture, fisheries and cybersecurity in addition to deepening “people-to-people and cultural exchanges in education, film and personnel training,” according to Chinese state media.
The Tehran Times reported that China has affirmed that it fully supports Iran’s position on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iranian nuclear deal, and that it intends to continue to support Iran during the ongoing negotiations in Vienna that began in November.
In recent years, China has supported Iran directly in defiance of American sanctions on the country by importing very large volumes of crude oil from Iran. Before sanctions were reimposed under former U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018, China was one of Iran’s largest oil customers.