Iran-China new strategic partnership agreement has drawn massive attention in the political circles. Signed on March 27 in Tehran between the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and highlighting the private sector cooperation and the Iranian place in the Chinese vast investment program under the “Belt and Road Initiative”, the agreement caused reactions by the US President Joe Biden.
Responding to a reporter’s question about if he was worried about Iran-China partnership, Biden said: “I have been worried about this for a year.” The 25-year strategic agreement between Iran and China, the draft of which was published in the media last year, outlined plans for the long-term supply of Iranian crude oil to China, as well as Chinese investment in oil, gas, petrochemical, renewable and nuclear energy infrastructure of Iran. Upon its publicity, the plan was taken by the US media and political observers as a development giving them reasons to criticize the time’s President Donald Trump policies regarding Tehran.
The observers argue that Trump’s policies toward Iran, dubbed “maximum pressure” strategy, have brought Tehran and Beijing closer and led Tehran to sign a 25-year strategic cooperation document with Beijing.
Now the question is that why the US administration officials and American international affairs experts worried about such a pact and call it a threat to the American national interests?
Washington struggling to restore eroding global hegemony and worried about changing balance of power in West Asia
In all years following the Cold War, the US has based its core foreign policy strategy on maintaining its hegemony in the international arena and playing a leading role in the international order. Although this strategy was announced by President George W. H. Bush in the early 1990s as the doctrine of the “New World Order,” severely unraveled in the early 2000s. Still, the governments, either Democratic or Republican, remained committed to maintaining the US the “top power” in the global order.
Over the past decade, the US strategists pointed at China as the biggest challenger to the US global role and hegemony. Such a view led to “pivot to the East” strategy, starting with Barack Obama administration and then his successors Trump and Biden. More specifically, in Washington’s eyes, in order to maintain Washington’s global dominance by reconsidering its foreign policy, it must shift its focus from the West Asia and Western Europe to curbing China in East Asia. The concerns about China’s rise has been so serious in Biden administration that the West Asia diplomats in the National Security Council were decreased and instead the East Asia and China circle diplomats were increased considerably.
Given these concerns in US foreign policy, the conclusion of the strategic Iran-China agreement as two US rivals in the world system can present challenges for the White House at two levels:
First, the US government views the alliance between Iran, China and Russia as an Eastern alliance. In fact, the pattern of friendship between the American global rivals is reminiscent of the East and West blocs that followed the Second World War. Second, the cooperation between Tehran and Beijing, which also has military and security dimensions, in West Asia could be a factor to upset the balance of power to the detriment of the US, Washington thinks. Signing of such an agreement in the eyes of Tehran’s rivals will increase the Islamic Republic’s military power. As a result, the US must either fill the existing power vacuum for other countries or they will move to cooperate and sign similar contracts with Beijing. This certainly runs counter to the US interests and will bring China as an emerging power to the region.
Iran isolation ends, US sanctions policy go ineffective
Another concern of the Biden administration and US strategists over the cooperation pact is the US sanctions policy against Iran going ineffective. In fact, the Americans have used sanctions instrumentally to put pressure on Iran for long years, but now the cooperation agreement between Iran and China can mark the nullification of this policy as a tool to wrest concessions from Tehran.
According to this 18-page document, China will invest in the Iranian banking sector, communications, ports, railways, and hundreds of projects. Also, the two countries will set up military and security bases for bilateral cooperation, research, and arms development. Furthermore, the Tehran-Beijing cooperation in energy sector will upgrade to strategic level, guaranteeing China as a permanent destination for the Iranian energy exports, regardless of the Americans sanctions that target Tehran’s hydrocarbons exports. China is now the biggest oil buyer and in last years imported over 10 million oil barrels. Purchasing the Iranian oil will certainly relax Tehran’s economic and hence political pressures.
The improvements to the Iranian economy and position are never favorable to Washington because in case of negotiations between Iran and the West, Tehran would have the least worries about the sanction and their effects and certainly will engage in talks from a higher position.