Iran and China: Towards a Strategic Partnership in the Future with an Emphasis on the Opportunities and Complexities of the 25-year Agreement

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Mazandaran, Babolsar, Iran

2 A PhD Candidate in International Relations, Kharazmi University, Tehran, Iran



With the growing isolation of Iran in the international system caused in part by Trump's campaign of maximum pressure, Iranian policymakers are increasingly drawn to China, which could significantly change the structure of the Middle East regional order in the long run. Recent agreements and partnerships between the two countries— reflected in the One Belt-One Road (OBOR) Initiative as well as the draft 25-year Comprehensive Strategic Partnership— will pave the way for the long-term strategic cooperation between the two countries. Hence, Sino-Iranian relations are constantly evolving in the fields of geopolitics, economics, and diplomacy. Despite a steady strategic relationship, Beijing has carefully controlled the degree of its growing bilateral relations with Iran in an effort to balance its other interests in the region. While Tehran calls the new 25-year cooperation agreement as a turning point in China-Iran relations, Beijing has shown a more balanced interpretation of the importance of this document. China does not seek to destabilize and escalate tensions in the Middle East, but it has undermined the effectiveness of important US policies such as imposing anti-Iran economic sanctions by increasing its cooperation with Iran which exposes the weakening of the United States’ influence in the region. However, China's determination to increase its involvement in the Middle East puts a limit on its interactions with Iran. In fact, the deepening of China's diplomatic, economic, and military ties with Iran’s regional rivals (e.g., Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) has forced Beijing to strike a balance between its relations with Iran and its ties with the other key regional powers. The rivalry between neighbors and the growing Great-power competition in the region can significantly undermine Iran-China bilateral relations. In particular, China has adopted a non-confrontational  approach to engage with Iran in a measured and controlled manner with the purpose of not jeopardizing its relations with the key regional players (i.e., the United States, Israel, and the Arab world).
As a great power, China does not want to endanger its national interests for the sake of a medium power, and tries to manage its ties with Iran on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis of its engagement with this Middle Eastern power in light of its grand strategy and the multiplicity of its broader foreign policy objectives. In addition, Iranian public opinion on the multidimensional cooperation with China and the sensitivities of regional actors will influence the future of Iran-China relations. Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic of Iran is eager to take advantage of Chinese trade and investment, but the policymakers are also wary of their over-reliance on China. It is true that both countries are dissatisfied with some of the rules governing the international system, and thus their policies can be examined to some extent according to the approaches of the revisionist governments which are opposed to the US dominance and hegemony. Although both countries do not like the existing international power distribution, but they have different worldviews. China is looking for a new world order, a new political and financial structure, a new way of managing and controlling everything on a global scale. China's growing role in almost all international institutions is seen as an indication of the rise of China. Hence, Beijing has based its foreign policy on maintaining stability with the assumption that its rise cannot be guaranteed by the collapse of the present international system and the formation of a completely different system.
In this study, the authors seek to answer the following research questions: 1. Has the strategic partnership between Iran and China been formed in a manner conforming with the structure of the existing international order? 2. What will be the future of Iran-China Relations? Using a descriptive-analytical approach and with the aim of explaining the historical trend and transformation processes in confrontation with the U.S., the influencing pattern of the relevant variables in the strategic Iran-China relations in the post-September international environment will be analyzed. The following hypothesis will be tested: Economic and political factors which have contributed to the formation of the strategic partnership between China and Iran have also a determining role in the limitation and complexity of the future strategic relations of these two revisionist countries. The most important findings of this research is that the increasing convergence between Iran and China is in response to the increasing pressure of the United States at the international level. The  25-Year Comprehensive Agreement as well as official statements by the policymakers involved indicate the desire of both parties for greater coordination.


Main Subjects

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