Strategic Importance of Iran and West Asia for China

2021/12/26 | interview, political, top news

Strategic Council Online - Interview: A faculty member of the Institute for Strategic Studies saying that we are witnessing an increase in China’s presence in the Middle East and North Africa, noted: West Asia plays an important role in China’s foreign policy perspective, and given its geopolitical location, it has been considered as a focal point in the Belt and Road Initiative.

In an interview with the website of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, Mehdi Shapouri, referring to China’s increased attention to West Asia, stressed the importance of that region for China in the economic field and added: China’s trade and investment in the world is now higher than that of the United States, and it is predicted that by 2030 the country will also surpass the United States in terms of GDP.

He described China’s growth in research and development, technology enhancement and military investment, and said that China was now a major economic partner for many countries, and that given West Asia’s important position in China’s foreign policy, we are witnessing an increase in the country’s presence in the Middle East and North Africa. Of course, given that the region has so far supplied about 50 percent of China’s oil needs, it has been more important in terms of security and Energy supply guarantee.

The analyst of international affairs said that China is forced to reduce coal consumption, which has been its most important source of energy, for environmental reasons, adding: It is projected that by 2030, China’s 50 percent dependence on Middle East energy will increase to about 70 percent, and it is likely that the country will pay more attention to Middle East gas resources in the future.

Recalling the expansion of China’s trade relations with West Asian countries, Shapouri added: According to some estimates, China’s trade volume with the Middle East and North Africa is more than 250 billion dollars. However, this figure may be small compared to trade with Europe or the United States; but in China’s macro economy, any business matters.

Increase in China’s investment in West Asia

Saying that West Asia is of special importance to China and that Chinese investments in the region are expected to increase significantly due to the large Belt and Road initiative, he said: One of the issues that China has considered in this regard is the 25-year agreement with Iran, which, if implemented, will lead to the investment of 400 billion dollars in the Iranian infrastructure and buying of significant oil from Iran.

A faculty member of the Institute for Strategic Studies said Chinese Investments in West Asia is more in the field of infrastructure and added: This region has an important place in the perspective of China’s foreign policy; because given its geopolitical location, it has been considered as a focal point in China’s strategic project, the Belt and Road Initiative.

Saying that China, in terms of military-security has been less engaged with West Asia, Shapouri stressed: If the issue of reducing the US military presence in the region is taken seriously, China will have to intervene more militarily and security-wise because of energy security issues. On the other hand, presence of China is also important for West Asian countries; because China, compared to the United States, has the advantage that it does not pay attention to the political and internal systems of countries and does not seek to pursue issues such as democracy and human rights. This is a great advantage for countries in the region that are dissatisfied with US intervention in their internal affairs.

China’s importance for West Asian countries

He continued: Countries opposing the US see China as a lever for balance with the United States, and on the other hand, pro-US countries also consider China as a lever to gain more scores from the United States in cases of disputes and seek diversity in their foreign policy. In terms of investment, countries in the region are trying to attract more capital from China, which is now the world’s largest investor.

Referring to the serious rivalry between Beijing and Washington and the prospect for China as a superpower, Shapouri said: Given such rivalries, the countries of the region are trying to establish good relations with China; because China, after all, has no colonial history and, unlike the United States, is not the biggest threat to the region.

The international affairs analyst continued by describing the importance of Iran’s role and position for China, adding: China has become Iran’s largest trading partner in the past two decades, while in the early 2000s it had little place in Iran’s foreign trade. In a situation where Western countries have put pressure on Iran in the form of sanctions, China has been cooperating with Iran and trying not to stop buying oil from Iran.

Referring to the dimensions of the 25-year agreement between Iran and China, which will lead to the establishment of extensive relations in various fields, he said: Given the global competition between China and the United States, countries critical of the US are of particular importance to China so that they can strike a formal or informal balance against the United States. In addition, Iran is very important to China in terms of energy security; China’s strategy in this regard is to diversify imports and meet needs from various sources; for this reason it buys oil from all the countries that it can.

China thinking of lasting relations with Iran

Emphasizing that Iran’s independence in foreign policy is very important for China, Shapouri said: Lack of a change in Iran’s policies under the US pressure is considered by Beijing officials, and in this regard, it seems that the Chinese are also thinking about sustainable relations with Iran.

The expert on international affairs, meanwhile, described the existence of international sanctions as a factor in limiting Iran-China relations, and referring to Beijing’s tendency for finalization of nuclear talks to establish extensive relations with Tehran, continued: It should not be forgotten that China has not been with us in the Security Council as a major nuclear power. Meanwhile China wants to stabilize relations between Iran and the countries of the region; this is because the country has established good relations with all countries in the region and wants to minimize tensions in the region in order to reduce the cost of its interaction with regional countries.

Emphasizing that in the future we will see a wider Chinese presence in West Asia, he added: China’s presence and influence in West Asia, like in other regions, is expanding. China has increased its investments in the region every year, and by participating in many regional infrastructures, it has formed a number of long-term agreements with countries that have far-reaching consequences.

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