An Elaboration on the Iran-China Relations in the Path towards and After Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

Fatemeh Nejhadi


Since diplomatic ties between China and Iran were established in 1971, the two countries have developed complex political, economic, and military relations. China has provided much-needed trade and investment to Iran, and as Iran has become increasingly isolated, China has gradually become the dominant external player in Iran’s economy. Chinese companies have played a particularly important role in developing Iran’s energy sector through oil purchases and major investments in resource extraction and infrastructure. Though China rarely trumpets its relationship with Iran, it maintains strong political ties with Tehran, and since the 1980s it has helped strengthen the country’s military with arms sales and military exchanges. Moreover, China–Iran relations typically refers to the economic, political, and social relations between the modern nations of the People's Republic of China and Iran, from the 1950s to the present day. Both the pre-1979 revolution Pahlavi dynasty of Iran and the post-revolutionary Islamic Republic of Iran have had diplomatic ties with China. Although the relations between these two governments are relatively new, trade and diplomatic relations between the peoples and cultures within these two countries have existed since at least 200 BC. Throughout history, China and Iran have developed a friendly economic and strategic partnership. China was crucial in assisting Iran 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 an Asian arena where many see China’s own rise as a threat. China’s “positive” and “constructive” role—laudatory descriptions used by Iranian leaders—in achieving the JCPOA will be an important advance toward its strategic objectives. President Xi Jinping’s January 2016 visit to Iran is an attempt to leverage the political goodwill, created by China’s positive role in the nuclear negotiations, into expanded cooperation in other areas.

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