The presence of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Beijing two weeks ago does not bode well for global security. The strategic Chinese-Iranian partnership simultaneously props up the world’s leading state sponsor of terror while also providing Beijing the foothold in the Near East necessary for its neocolonialist Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project to succeed.
Unsurprisingly, the meeting between Zarif and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, further strengthened the two nations’ economic ties. Yi pledged to invest $280 billion in Iranian oil, gas, and petrochemical sectors. U.S. sanctions had targeted these specific sectors in late 2018 to hinder the rogue state’s arsenal development. While the Iranian regime has faced mounting pressure, as other countries have halted economic support, Beijing has become Iran’s top oil customer and trading partner — making up for 50% – 70% of the state’s oil exports.
The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) support for the terror-supporting Iranian regime is not new. For over two decades, China has enabled Tehran’s weapons development.
Beginning in the 1980s, China served as Iran’s most active supplier of advanced weapons, including fighter jet and anti-ship missile technology. China provided small arms, as well as tactical ballistic missiles, to the Islamic Republic during the Iraq War years. The PRC also contributed design plans and infrastructure mechanisms, modernizing Iran’s military-industrial sector. Testimony before the House International Relations Committee in 1996 highlighted China’s role in assisting Iran’s arsenal. The testimony alluded to the transfer of missile guidance systems, computerized machine tools, and chemical plant infrastructure plans. It is probable that, without China’s vital support, the Iranian regime might not have survived the onslaught of financial problems the Iraq War eventually helped produce.
Distressingly, the strongest component to the Islamic Republic of Iran and the PRC’s partnership is their shared opposition to American hegemony.
For decades, Beijing has engaged in economic warfare against the United States in the form of intellectual property theft and unfair trade practices. Huawei, China’s leading telecommunications company, has been accused of and investigated on multiple counts of theft and trade violations. Last year, Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou was even arrested on allegations of violating U.S. trade sanctions against Iran.
The PRC’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea and takeover of strategic ports in Africa under the guise of the BRI is reflective of the Chinese Communist Party’s hegemonic ambitions. The U.S. patrols that routinely counter China’s sovereignty claims over the South China Sea are often aggressively intercepted by Chinese People’s Liberation Army aircraft and vessels. China’s militarization of this body of water is just one of many predatory strategies the Chinese Communist Party uses to further its global ambitions.
At the core of PRC President Xi Jinping’s BRI project, furthermore, is his utilization of “debt-trap diplomacy.” Under “debt-trap diplomacy,” Beijing provides business loans to countries and when those countries become unable to reimburse the loans, Beijing moves in and demands control of critical bases, ports, or strategic resources, depending on the underlying location.
The recent agreement between Zarif and Yi pulls Iran into this equation. Beijing is able to extract key natural resources and gain a foothold in the Near East while remaining utterly disinterested in Iran’s menacing internal behavior. Historically, China has been unwilling to cooperate with international efforts to hamper Tehran’s dangerous capabilities and ambitions. Without the critical economic and technological aid China provides, Tehran’s security would cripple.
China’s economic, military, and “diplomatic” foothold in the Middle East is truly ominous. Xi Jinping’s decision to dismiss U.S. sanctions against Iran proves China is willing to interrupt the global economic order to advance its own interests. If the international community does not step up and effectively counter the PRC’s harboring of Iran, the world could bear witness to a new and dangerous nuclear powerhouse.
Maya Carlin is an M.A. candidate in Counter-Terrorism and Homeland Security at IDC Herzliya’s Lauder School of Government in Israel. She is also the associate producer at the Center for Security Policy, located in Washington D.C.