China-Iran Strategic Partnership Agreement and New Regional Order

DND Thought CenterChina-Iran Strategic Partnership Agreement and New Regional Order

By Shazia Anwer Cheema



“Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi signed the highly anticipated Iran-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership agreement after more than five years of grueling talks,” reports, Russian state-run News agency—SPUTNIK.

Neither China nor Iran have made public details of the Agreement but regional experts believe it was largely unchanged from an 18-page leaked document by New York Times.

The phrase Strategic Partnership Agreement is the crux of this entire event. China has not said that there will be few mutual projects which can benefit both the countries or China and Iran are collaborating on something. Categorically explaining that Iran and China are going to be strategic partners from now on, means a lot different as anticipated. I would like to dwell more on the phrase strategic partnership for additional clarification.

Sputnik reports that the Chinese Foreign Minister after the signing ceremony stated that relations with Iran will not be affected by the current situation, but will be permanent and Strategic because Iran decides independently on its relations with other countries and is not like some countries that change their position with one phone call.

Background of Iran–China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership

Iran–China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership was proposed by President Xi Jinping, during his visit to Iran in 2016. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took the approval of the Agreement from his cabinet before parlays to decide macro-level details. In June 2020, the Iranian draft was shared with Beijing which was leaked by New York Times.

According to the leaked draft, the agreement includes Chinese investment worth over US$280 billion in the oil and gas sector of Iran.  And the revival of the New Silk Road. According to the leaked document, China will be able to buy any and all Iranian oil, gas, and petrochemical products at a minimum guaranteed discount of 12pc to the six-month rolling mean price of comparable benchmark products, plus another 6pc to 8pc of that metric for risk-adjusted compensation.

What does Strategic Partnership mean to China and Iran?

Strategic partnerships (SPs) constitute a novel form and feature of the evolving international relations system and represent a new principle for organizing international life.

Seen broadly, strategic partnerships represent a type of special relationship and thus are not unique or new at all. However, should one take a closer look into the internal mechanics of the partnership phenomenon and explore its distinctive foreign-political functions from its changing geostrategic context, it becomes clear that with the reconfiguration of the international relations system since the early 1990s, strategic partnerships have become the necessary key to cope with systemic and issue-specific international challenges. (Andriy Tyushka and Lucyna Czechowska)
In an academic paper titled “Strategic partnerships, international politics and IR theory”, Andriy Tyushka wrote that since 1993, when China made its first strategic partnership with Brazil, and by 2014 China had forged close to 70 strategic partnerships, thereby creating a web of truly differentiated strategic links with both major and emerging powers as well as with international organizations worldwide.

Notwithstanding its recent introduction to the discipline, such popularity of the term within International Relations and political science literature illustrates a successful migration of the idea of strategic partnerships from business and organizational studies from which it originates (herein both ‘strategic partnerships’ and ‘strategic alliances’ are used to connote the idea)

Among international organizations, China’s strategic partners are the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the European Union (EU), the African Union (AU), the Arab League (AL), and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
Like alliances, strategic partnerships are inherently related to security issues. It is hard to imagine any strategic partnership without dealing the security threats. The parties involve determined their goal, roles, and world view in each other’s mirrors.

It is not necessarily strategic partnership can just emerge from a friendly bonding it could be otherwise; both the parties can have a common ally’s confrontation. It is no secret that Iran needs a partner, not an alliance to breathe in the global arena as the partnership has been strategized thus less oxygen for Iran eventually means equal suffocation for China.
China has a clear-cut strategy of live and let live which will fully benefit Iran. Iran’s domestic situation until and unless becoming a security issue creates no concern for China. How you govern your country or is it true democracy plus if your people need to be rescued are forbidden in China’s book of Power.

What do Regional observers think about China Iran Strategic Cooperation?

Regional experts believe that Iran China’s strategic partnership not only promised to invest 4 billion US dollars in Middle Eastern oil and gas resources rather it will work to counter US dominance in the region.

The accord also brings Iran into the grasp of the Belt and Road infrastructure scheme – an ambitious scheme worth the equivalent of over $1 trillion aiming to link China to Europe and Africa via a series of new land- and sea-based infrastructure projects across dozens of nations.

Iran believes that the military presence of the United States in West Asia is the root cause of regional instability and collective efforts by regional parties are needed to ensure regional security. Now China is standing in Hormuz and the United States and its Middle Eastern allies will not in a position to take unilateral decisions in the future about this sensitive and strategically important location.

Ambassador (Retired) Syed Hasan Javed who served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Germany, Singapore, and Mauritius is an expert on Chinese diplomacy and he worked in China in two diplomatic assignments for nearly a decade. He speaks fluent Chinese and is an Author of Seven Books on China. Since 2016, he is the Director of the Chinese Studies Centre, National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Islamabad.

When asked to comment on China Iran Strategic Partnership Agreement, he said that the 25-year Agreement signed by China and Iran marks a strategic and historic breakthrough in China’s policy and relations with West Asia and by implication the Middle East and Gulf. The talk of this Agreement had long been going on and hence not totally unanticipated.

A detailed comment of Ambassador Syed Hasan Javed is reproduced hereunder:

Wang Yi began his official tour from Saudi Arabia in a carefully balanced and mature initiative. His interview to AL Arabia spelling out China’s 5 Point proposal for peace and development in the region i. E. Mutual respect, upholding equity and justice, achieving nonproliferation, jointly fostering collective security, accelerating development cooperation is widely seen as masterstroke in strategic competition with the West.

China’s move has disarmed the Western Powers of any narrative and further reduced them to utter irrelevance in the broader Middle East region.

The Western Powers’ dilemmas were already compounding with the success of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and their inability to produce a Counter narrative.

Both Iran and China took time to strike this Agreement on which few details have been made public. It is believed to include a US $400 Billion Investment in Modernization of  Iran’s infrastructure, energy,  science, and technology projects. China regards Iran as a major country in the Belt and Road Initiative.

With China’s strategic entry into the West Asian region, the region is moving into doubly interesting times. Unlike the Western powers including the US, China maintains close relations with all the Arab states, Iran as well as Israel. It enjoys the widespread trust and credibility in the region. The US policy of War with no end has isolated it and damaged long-term Western interests irreparably.

With China and Russia solidly behind it, Iran has played its cards smartly. The pressure is now on US to return to Six Nation Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action(JCPOA) ensuring nuclear non proliferation. US ‘muscle flexing’ by way of Naval exercises to extract concessions have lost its efficacy long ago.

China, Iran, and the Arab States stand on the same side on human rights, Palestinian Issue, UNSC Reforms, disarmament, peace, and development issues. Relations between the three and complement each other’s core interests. There has been growing feeling in the Arab world streets that the Western Powers have used them and fomented conflicts in the region to serve their own interests. A genuine feeling of distancing from the West is growing and picking up pace.

The economic, scientific, defence achievements and the strength of its Diplomacy and Soft Power appeal shocks its Adversaries and mesmerizes its Friends. Iran comes as a major prize for China to gain a foothold in the Gulf region long dominated by the Western Powers in general and the US in particular.

The Western counter-narrative demeaning the rise of China by highlighting so-called issues of human rights, financial and technology sanctions have lost their relevance. Asia stands on the threshold of a new historical era with the rise of China as manifested in the quality of its strategic moves, economic engagement, and soft power appeal. The region as a whole including Pakistan stands to benefit from this emerging post-Colonial, Imperial global Win-win template.

Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed who is known for strengthening the foreign relations with China and Central Asia believes that Iran-China strategic agreement is good for the region and positive for Pakistan’s interests as it strengthens regional economic connectivity of which Pakistan is the hub, thanks to CPEC and the Belt & Road Initiative.
When asked to comment on the deal, he further said that with the Chinese role in Iran, and both good friends of Pakistan, Pakistan’s Western flank is secured, helping stability in Baluchistan and strengthening the role of Gwadar Port in promoting regional connectivity with China, Afghanistan, Iran, and Central Asian Republics.

“Regrettably, after just one phone call from the United States, India reneged on the IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) Pipeline and opted instead for a nuclear deal with the US, while Pakistan stuck to the gas pipeline agreement with Iran. Regionalism will promote peace in Afghanistan and lessen tensions in this strategic region. Pakistan, China, and Iran are all committed to peace in Afghanistan,” commented Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed.

Ambassador Ali Sarwar Naqvi is one of the most senior diplomats in Islamabad whose diplomatic career spanning over thirty-six years, from 1970 to 2006 that enabled him to serve at senior Ambassadorial positions, at the United Nations, both in New York and Vienna, and in Washington D.C, London, Paris, and Brussels.

Ambassador Naqvi is presently serving as the founding Executive Director of the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) which is an independent and autonomous think-tank for research and analysis of current regional and international strategic issues from a Pakistani perspective, to contribute to the national and international discourse, and thus create greater understanding between Pakistan and other countries.
When asked to comment on China-Iran Agreement, he was of the view that the deal between China and Iran has (had) wider implications ranging from economic perspectives and part of a process of bilateral relations between China and Iran including earlier deals of supply of oil.

Ambassador Naqvi stated that the economic relation between China and Iran are (were) taking shape in a big way and has (had) political consequences in the region and would impact of Afghanistan situation also. While commenting on the regional perspective of the deal, Ambassador Naqvi was of the view that the deal would be supportive to resolve the Afghanistan issue where China is trying along with Russia and Pakistan for a Peace Deal between the Taliban and Kabul. He was confident that the China Iran deal will not affect time-tested China Pakistan relations rather this deal would help Iran Pakistan in a diplomatic as well as in an economic way.

“China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will get support from this deal because now this project may be extended to Iranian soil because China and Iran are already partners in Belt and Road Initiative’” Ambassador Naqvi concluded.

Senior journalist and Development Observer whose core area of work includes Central Asia and Eastern Europe, Agha Iqrar Haroon believes that Iran is one of the topmost countries whose geostrategic positioning had been their threat instead of strength in the last 40 years and they had been in constant diplomatic stresses.

Haroon commented:
“Situated at the crossroads of Central Asia (bordering Turkmenistan), South Asia (bordering Pakistan) Eastern Europe (bordering Armenia), it shares sea waters with Middle eastern countries being at the Strait of Hormuz. The Strait of Hormuz is a strait between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. It provides the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the open ocean and is one of the world’s most strategically important choke points. On the north coast lies Iran and on the south coast the United Arab Emirates and an exclave of Oman.
It was understood that China would definitely secure its Maritime Silk Road at every place and cannot afford any chock-point out of its access. China’s new Maritime Silk Road has a philosophy of mitigating the situation of the Strait of Malacca, therefore, it invested in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and now Iran. Connecting Iran with China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is one of the options but not the only one and presence in Iran will connect China to the Persian Gulf via Central Asia. China believes in a win-win approach instead of fixing with one country and one option”.

Dr. Talat Shabbir Director China-Pakistan Study Centre at Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad when asked to share his opinion over China-Iran Deal, he said:
Essentially, with this new agreement, China has sought to increase its relative influence in the Middle East at a time when China-US relations are strained. It lays the framework of future China-Iran Economic Cooperation and would enable China to have an additional economic cooperation framework besides Pakistan. Meanwhile, this agreement will also strengthen Iran’s hand in pushing back against the US as it secures an alternative economic support option.

John W. Garver is an emeritus professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He served for many years on the editorial boards of China Quarterly, Journal of Contemporary China, Issues and Studies, and Asian Security. He is a member of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations
In his article published in the year 2016 titled “China and Iran: An Emerging Partnership Post-Sanctions”, he indicated that China was crucial in assisting Iran to escape deep isolation and rejoin the global economy through the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), establishing itself as an arbiter between the United States and Iran throughout the P5+1 negotiations.
“Beijing had placed as a top priority averting a military confrontation between Iran and the United States, or Israel, which it calculated would have been disastrous not only for Iran but for Chinese interests in the region. But China’s influential diplomacy in the P5+1 talks was also centered on its long-time strategy for Tehran. The Chinese aim to gradually grow with Iran a multi-dimensional partnership based on mutual understanding and trust, and see in Iran a potential power that could act as its partner in Asia,” wrote Garver.
Garver’s comments can help to understand that China has not come to Iran just for Strategic Partnership or business deal rather it has landed to engage Iran as its Asian partner.

Will this development impact the Middle Eastern-centric policy of Pakistan or not? will be clear by actions taken by Pakistan, not by statements.

Note: The writer Shazia Cheema is an analyst writing for national and international media outlets including Pakistan Observer, Eurasia Diary, InSight, and Mina News Agency. She heads the Thought Center of Dispatch News Desk (DND). She did her MA in Cognitive Semiotics from Aarhus University Denmark and is currently registered as a Ph.D. Scholar of Semiotics and Philosophy of Communication at Charles University Prague. She can be reached at her: Twitter @ShaziaAnwerCh Email:


The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.

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