China’s deepening ties with Iran raises critical concerns for India, Chabahar port

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani | ThePrint Team

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As China faces increasing heat from the international community over its aggressive political and military postures, ranging from Ladakh in the high Himalayas with India, the South China Sea region and beyond, Beijing is also looking to solidify its relations with Iran in the Middle East as the Shiite power faces a “maximum pressure” policy from the US in the form of crippling sanctions and military options. The foundation of this impending “deal” between Beijing and Tehran was laid during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Iran in 2016.

According to reports, Beijing and Tehran are nearing the conclusion of an extensive trade and military partnership. For Iran, such a deal could throw the embattled country a much-needed economic lifeline. Iran is already part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and in September 2019 China announced its intent to infuse $400 billion worth of investments in Iran’s oil and gas, infrastructure and transportation sectors. These massive numbers are a direct challenge to both Western, and more specifically, American economic might on a regional and global stage, but also creating new geo-political flash points as Beijing expands its reach around the world, which now includes a base in Djibouti, operations of the Gwadar port in Pakistan, ever increasing naval port calls across the world and so on.

Also read: Iran to develop Chabahar rail link on its own, but says ‘doors are open’ for India to join

The Iran – China deal is turning out to be a well-timed chimera, with most details available this past week coming from a report which claims to have got access to a copy of the 18-page proposed agreement. Some reports initially also suggested that as part of the deal, the geo-strategically important Kish Island in the Persian Gulf, located at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz may be ‘sold’ to China. However, these claims were refuted by Iranian officials.

The US – China tussle arriving in Iran would be a new challenge within a challenge for New Delhi, which has over the past few years been balancing its relations with the US and Iran.

Despite popular consensus that President Donald Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” against Tehran has pushed India in a corner over its relations with the same, it was in fact the administration of former president Barack Obama that really turned the keys on New Delhi with regard to Iran, pushing the then government of Manmohan Singh to not only dry the oil trade taps, but also use India’s position with Iran to nudge the regime towards an agreement with the West on back of economic windfalls the Iranian economy would enjoy if the deal succeeds. India kowtowed the US line, helping create the narrative to Tehran of an agreement with the P5+1, curbing oil trade, initially disallowing Iranian banks’ to open branches in Mumbai and so on.

Also read: The China-Iran strategic partnership, and how it can change geopolitics in the Middle East

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