The online conference dubbed “Explicating Iran-China Relations in the New Global Conditions” was attended by Dr. Mohammad Baqer Khorramshad, Secretary of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations; Dr. Gholamreza Chegnizadeh, Faculty Member of Allameh Tabatabai University and Director of China Studies Center and Dr. Mohsen Shariatinia, Faculty Member of Shahid Beheshti University. It was held on Saturday July 18.
Global Changes in Transition and Importance of Iran-China Strategic Relations
In this meeting, which was chaired by Dr. Chegnizadeh, Dr. Khorramshad presented his initial topics in four sections: Global changes in in transition, the situation in China, Iran and the reasons for the close relations between the two countries and the future ahead in today’s world conditions.
To explain the characteristics of today’s world, he quoted part of a speech by French President Emmanuel Macron in August 2019 and said: “According to Mr. Macron, the American hegemony that was conceived in the twentieth century is now changing and these profound changes are due to the mistakes of Westerners themselves in certain crises, and especially the mistakes the Americans made in recent times, not initiated by Trump.
Khorramshad said: “From Macron’s point of view, the first and most important reality in the world today is China and Russia, which are becoming new political and economic powers. Russia, India and China have taken a rational approach vis-à-vis the world and are more inspiring in today’s world than in the United States and Europe.
“All of this is changing the rules of the game,” he said. “From Macron’s point of view, the two countries that are currently in control are the United States and China. The West must decide how to deal with this drastic change and how to face this new reality.”
“In Macron’s view, in such a situation, Europe will be eliminated and the world will focus on the two powers, the United States and China, which need to strengthen European civilization, while the West must prevent a Chinese alliance with Russia in order not to let China become stronger.”
Khorramshad added: “If we accept Mr. Macron’s assumptions, the question that arises is that in this world in transition, what we should do strategically as the Islamic Republic of Iran and on the other hand China.”
“We can rely on a few statistics to examine China’s power today,” said the secretary of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations. “In 1978, some 900 million of China’s 1 billion people were living below the poverty line, but today the same figures say China has almost no citizens under poverty line. Instead, it has the most billionaires in the world after the United States. China ranks first in the world in the production and export of goods and is known as the global production chain.
In 2019, China’s exports hit more than $ 2.4 trillion, while US exports were about $1.6 trillion. Nine of the world’s top 20 technology companies are owned by China and the country is the world leader in terms of purchasing power with $27 trillion. 47% of the world’s coal is produced in China.
In terms of patents, China ranks first in the world with 59,000 patents. It is also a trading partner of 130 countries. Therefore, we are facing a China that has a large consumer market, is the world’s leading producer and exporter, has a veto power, is a proponent of multilateralism in the international system, and is a rival and, in the words of the United States, an enemy of this country. Beijing also has an independent foreign policy and does not seek hegemony, making cooperation with developing countries one of its top three foreign policy priorities.
Regarding Iran’s status, Dr. Khorramshad said: “If China is a world factory, this factory has a constant thirst for energy and a consumer market, especially since this country is in urgent need of importing energy by land, because the United States uses international waterways as a tool to exercise its strength.” As a result, Iran can be a reliable source of energy for this country. Another point is that today Iran is a regional power in West Asia, which shows its influence and role in the region, as well as a decisive role in the security of Central Asia and the Persian Gulf, both of which are important for China. Iran also has an independent foreign policy that favors a multipolar world order. Thus, Iran is a powerful country whose enormous geopolitical potential can provide many advantages for China, especially in the economic field.
The faculty member of Allameh University also stressed the importance and necessity of cooperation between Iran and China. Although all political factions in Iran believe that having several business partners is in Iran’s interest, in today’s transitional world, China and Iran are in a situation where they are of strategic importance to each other, so this is not a coincidence. The United States has been blocking us for 40 years and the Iran Nuclear Agreement (formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) proved that Europe is facing serious problems; therefore, China is a window for the rise of a stronger Iran.
China’s Structural Opportunities for Iran’s Role-Playing on Int’l Stage
Dr. Shariatinia, a faculty member of Shahid Beheshti University, also said about the reasons for Iran-China relations: “China is a country that changes the distribution of rules in the system and therefore allows us to be an innovative and regulatory country at least at the regional level.
He added: “The importance of Iran’s cooperation document with China is that the more systematic the change, which means the distribution of power and the rewriting of rules, the less structural pressure on Iran. Perhaps no country has been under structural pressure from hegemonic stability as much as Iran in the post-Cold War period. China could upset that hegemonic stability, and the more this system evolves, the more potential it could open up for Iran. Of course, these openings are not definitive and may complicate the situation for Iran in the course of the evolution of the international system.
Regarding the reasons for the delay in Iran’s cooperation with China, Dr. Shariatinia said: “We in Iran have not entered into much defined and structured work with China. Despite the fact that our economic relations with this country have expanded, it is less conceptualized and structured. But despite all this, the Cooperation Document is an important step forward. Yet, much more important than the document on paper is its implementation, and if there is no ability to turn it into action our country will get no benefits; Therefore, cooperating with China is not an easy task, because our knowledge of China is in its initial stage and its power is increasing day by day.
Strategic Response to the Choice of Iran’s Relations with China
In continuation of the debate, Dr. Khorramshad underlined the need for cooperation with China: “We do not have a laboratory in political science and international relations. In this field, one of the experimental methods is scenarios and hypotheses contrary to what is current and conceived. Accordingly, we can ask the question that if today Iran does not expand its relations with China and does not look at it as a strategic relationship, what will be the judgment of Iranians and experts against this kind of Iranian game 10 years later? Because today everyone agrees that the world is moving towards multi-polarity. Europe does not have its own Western power and the power has been transferred to Asia; therefore, opponents of relations with China should be asked why, given the current situation, Iran should not forge cooperation with China?”
The course of history has largely been determined by the wars, and the victories at the end of the wars have determined the course of the future world order; Like the First and Second World Wars and the Cold War; but in all these wars Iran has gained nothing. In the current situation, we must act in such a way that we do not lag behind the global transition process. While today we are different from the past Iran and we are talking about an Iran that has more power than in the past and can withstand the maximum pressure of the United States; therefore, if Iran cannot give a strategic answer to the strategic question of relations with China with these coordinates, it must answer to history.
Reasons for Importance of Iran-China Strategic Cooperation Document
Explaining the importance of the Iran-China document in the transition period, Dr. Shariatinia said: “The transition period is almost over and now, after the stabilization of the hegemonic space, the bipolar space between the United States and China has been formed in the international system. As a result the distance of this pole with the third poles is very large; thus, the transition period in international politics is coming to an end and the conditions of the bipolar world are stabilizing. In such circumstances, Iran is one of the last countries to enter into a structured work with China at the end of the transition period; therefore, it cannot be said that this document indicates our recognition of the conditions of the transition period. Unfortunately, we have missed the transition period to some extent, and as the transition environment stabilizes, we have entered into structured cooperation with China, and if this process of cooperation lasts, its implementation could become even more complicated. This document was finalized after 4 years of work; because if the bipolar atmosphere is stabilized, our leverage in the international system and cooperation with China will decrease; So today the debate of the transition period is an old story and the question should be where is our place in the atmosphere of bipolar stabilization and how should we act?
Strategic Revision in Relations with the World, China
Dr. Khorramshad in response to the question of the former ambassador of Iran to China, Mohammad Hossein Malaek whether Iran and China will get closer to each other based on the necessity of time, said: “French President Macron believes we are at the end of Western hegemony in the world. Even now, actors like France have come to the conclusion that Europe must decide where it wants to end up in a world in transition. Today, Iran is not the pre-revolutionary Iran, it is independent and it is facing an irresponsible West, a sign of which we can see in JCPOA and therefore it needs a strategic review; Therefore, if France is voluntarily conducting a strategic review of the current situation, this review will be doubled for Iran under the pressure of sanctions, and as a result, this situation will double the desire for a relationship with China.
Iran’s Relationship with China; Choice or Necessity?
Regarding China’s choice to cooperate with our country, Dr. Shariatinia said: “Today, the relationship with China is no longer a choice for the countries of the world, but a kind of necessity; Therefore, the issue of choosing to cooperate with China is no longer important and is a necessity for Iran; Because when we talk about China, we are talking about 13% of the world’s GDP, which accounts for 20% of world trade, 20% of the world’s population, potentially the largest military force, and the veto right at the UN Security Council; So we are talking about a country with a capacity of 20% in international economy and politics. Given the capacity of this country, communication with it is a necessity for all countries.
He added: “Theoretically, the expansion of structured cooperation with China can redistribute structural pressures on Iran to some extent and reduce hegemonic pressures on our country.” In such an environment, Iran needs countries that can reduce these pressures, and China is a potential candidate that can gradually alleviate the pressures on Iran, and this is a strategic logic that explains the need for a relationship with China. And if this cooperation is structured, it can be to our advantage and expand the space for international maneuver for us.
He said: “Iran is not a special country in terms of relations with China, and this focus exists in all countries, and China is a strategic partner of 120 countries. Just as countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are ahead of Iran in terms of relations with China; Thus, there is a consensus in the countries of the region that a relationship with China could increase their maneuvering power in the international world; So it’s a global trend that we are lagging behind, and although our economic relationship with China has grown, it has not yet been structured.”
Strategic Outcome of Iran’s Relations with China
Dr. Chegnizadeh, Head of the Center for Chinese Studies at Allameh University, added: “If we accept that we are in a very challenging period, it is very obvious that the country facing these challenges must increase its strategic options and expand its international spaces. If a country is in a strategic position in the current situation, the enemy’s job is to close these spaces and limit its options. Under the status quo, Iran is facing two problems. The first is the strategic challenges that the transition period has created for us, and the second is the challenge that the Americans have imposed on Iran in terms of maximum pressure. Both of these challenges require us to choose from many strategic options and expand our strategic space. Our victory over US pressure and the strategic challenges of the transition period will be achieved when we increase our options, and this document of cooperation with China is the first step.”
Regarding the reasons for West’s obstructions in the way of Iran-China relations, Dr. Khorramshad said: “The United States and Western think tanks have used the historical phobia Iran has had against the big powers in the strategic relations with China to block the way to this relationship, because they themselves are scared of deeper Iran-China relations. So today, the United States wants to block possible ways for us to cooperate with the powers through the phobia of the Iranian people, and that is why it is speculating about the Iran-China cooperation document. In such a situation, at the discretion of the times, we must be careful not to suffer from self-imposed sanctions. This issue must be led by our elites and experts, so that the window of these opportunities further opens for us.”
Iran-China Cooperation Document, from Past to Present
Mr. Malaek, the former Iranian ambassador to China, also said in this virtual meeting about the cooperation document between the two countries: “The UAE and Saudi Arabia are far ahead of us in this regard; this document does not endorse any political process unless it refers to a commitment over a period of 25 years. This document is in line with the Chinese 2025 vision plan.
Iran’s Reasons for Choosing Strategic Relationship with China
Commenting on the need to strategically choose a relationship with China, Dr. Chegnizadeh said: “Naturally, our relationship with the Asian chain geopolitically provides us the most opportunity; while there is no geopolitical proximity to US and European chains; so it is not urgency that draws us to this chain, but a conscious choice. In fact, China and Asia are our most necessary and perhaps the most natural strategic choices, which we should not slaughter in a series of bipolar discourses. We need to know that the 21st century is the Asian century, and Asian Iran must seek its choice in Asia.”
He stressed: “Asia chain and all its material supplies are at the disposal of Iran and we should not ignore it. We must separate the relationship with China from the bipolarity of the relationship with the United States, so that even if the United States and Europe leave all their capabilities to Iran to decide Tehran must make its choice with China and Asia, because it is very useful for us; So we have to consider it a choice, but not an urgency to move away from America. In fact, we should not go to the Asian chain and China only when we have problems with the United States and Europe, and we should establish this logic among the people; because the Asian choice is logically a better choice than the United States and Europe, and we must strengthen this view in the country. At the same time, if we make the right Asian choice, Europe will have no choice but to cooperate with Iran, because we have considerable geopolitical potential, but we have not yet been able to make good use of it.