by Tahir Mahmoud (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 6, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1441)
In recent weeks the corporate media has been awash with analysis of the purported document leaked to the public and titled the ‘25-year Comprehensive Plan for Cooperation between Iran and China’. While the document is being labeled as a formal treaty, neither party has confirmed it as such.
No officially confirmed details of the Iran-China economic agreement are known publicly. Nevertheless, the Western corporate media immediately began putting a negative spin on it. Prior to tackling the West’s modus operandi, let us briefly examine the broad aspects of the 25-year plan known publicly so far and analyze its repercussions.
According to Iran’s former ambassador to China, Beijing has agreed to buy Iranian oil for the next 25 years. This is the primary detail of the deal known publicly. It appears that both China and Iran are determined to keep the details secret for now. They face Washington’s unprecedented hostility and it is natural for them to seek a form of cooperation and do so on their own terms. It is clear that NATO regimes are unaware of the details of the Iran-China deal-in- the-making. The latest disinformation campaign is an attempt to extract some details through wild speculation. What can be gleaned so far is that it appears to be a strategic agreement.
Western sources make claims based on non-official sources that “the central pillar of the new deal is that China will invest $280bn developing Iran’s oil, gas and petrochemicals sectors. This amount may be front-loaded into the first five-year period of the deal, but the understanding is that further amounts will be available in every subsequent five-year period, subject to both parties’ agreement. There will be another $120bn investment to upgrade Iran’s transport and manufacturing infrastructure, which again can be front-loaded into the first five-year period and added to in each subsequent period should both parties agree. Among other benefits, Chinese companies will be given first option of refusal to bid on any new, stalled or uncompleted oil and gas field developments. Chinese firms will also have first choice of refusal on opportunities to become involved with any and all petchem projects in Iran, including the provision of technology, systems, process ingredients and personnel required to complete such projects.” While this sounds elaborate, these come from Western sources and they always have an anti-Islamic government agenda when reporting on anything that has to do with Iran.
Whatever the details, economic cooperation with China will not resolve most of Iran’s economic problems, something the Iranians understand well. Iran’s strategic economic roadmap, named the resistance economy, sees the resolution of economic problems, primarily through internal mechanisms. Foreign trade is just one component of the resistance economy strategy. However, enhanced economic cooperation with China will provide Tehran with significant economic space to outlast the process of America’s imperial decline.
Iran’s economic obstacles are not about economics only. Western journalists and academics on Iran’s economy ignore the political and security aspects that influence Tehran’s economic decisions. Economic sanctions are imposed on Islamic Iran due to its political and security principles. Therefore, disengaging Iran’s economy from political issues and presenting it on its own is a deliberate attempt to obfuscate reality. However, this does not mean that for Tehran the discussed economic agreement with China is a political roadmap. In order to understand this, it is important to analyze Iran’s trade with China and its statecraft, outside of the Western narrative in order to get a more realistic picture. This is not always easy to do, mainly due to the vast volume of NATO’s propaganda resources.
The political implication of the Chinese Iranian economic deal has nothing to do with Iran seeking to earn Beijing’s patronage in its geopolitical polices. This is part of the broader negative spin by pro-Western pundits. Iran knows well that China is not interested in a regional paradigm shift in West Asia and the wider Muslim world. Beijing is mainly seeking an environment in which it can outperform the US economically and China is perfectly fine with the current order of things, if it fulfills this requirement.
For Tehran, the recent pact is not about increasing its geopolitical clout, it has done so very successfully over the past 40 years without Beijing’s patronage or political cover. Iran was able to prevent a formation of the American order in the Middle East. Taking into account that China’s foreign minister admitted that China does not have the capabilities to become a global hegemonic power, Tehran will not be facing a situation where it will have to always balance its regional policies and priorities with China’s regional politics.
No matter how powerful, China lacks the ideological and soft-power basis to be a trendsetter in West Asia. Broadly speaking, internationally and regionally, young people throughout the world are either clinging to Western liberalism or converting to Islam. There is no other alternative available at present. Thus, while it might sound exaggerated, China is not a competitor for Iran in the region.
Now, let’s look at the specifics of the Western propaganda against the Iranian Chinese economic pact. The primary Western propaganda spin revolved around the following notion; “up to 5,000 Chinese security personnel on the ground in Iran to protect Chinese projects, and there will be additional personnel and material available to protect the eventual transit of oil, gas and petchems supply from Iran to China, where necessary, including through the Persian Gulf.” On the face of it, this is not problematic in itself, but it is false to paint it as Chinese military presence within Iran. To deflect responsibility from this baseless narrative, Western media machinery always pinpoints that this “detail” was revealed by an anonymous source.
Whoever came up with the rumor of Chinese security personnel within Iran and attempted to spin it as Chinese military presence within Iran, clearly lacks basic understanding of Iranian history and the paradigm of the current Islamic system in Iran. The fakeness of the rumor is also evident from the fact that it claimed that Iran ceded Kish Island.
For the past 40 years, even when the Islamic government in Iran was at its most vulnerable position, in the 1980s, accepting foreign military presence within Iran for whatever reason, was never an option for consideration. Iran opposed the Soviet Union by aiding Afghan fighters and resisted US imperialism. It is a system based on principles outside of the Western intellectual and political paradigm. When Western sources attempt to study Iran, they frequently do so based on false assumptions. The examination of the current Chinese and Iranian economic pact followed the exact same pattern.
For the past several hundred years, political processes within Iran always revolved around expelling foreign presence. From the famous tobacco fatwa by Ayatollah Mirza Shirazi in 1891 which shook the British occupation of Iran to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iranian political life revolved around ending foreign presence. Also, article 146 of the Iranian constitution states that “it is forbidden to establish any kind of foreign military base in the country, even for peaceful purposes.”
A similar propaganda ploy was utilized by the Western corporate media in 2016 when Russia launched missile strikes against NATO backed terrorists in Syria. Western sources were ablaze with false headlines that Russia used its bases in Iran. This false rumor passed as an established fact was quickly discovered to be untrue. Russian warplanes were simply using an Iranian air base for refueling purposes with no Russian troops on the ground.
It is possible that to eliminate the language barrier, private security guards of Chinese ethnicity might be guarding labor camps of construction workers from China. To address unemployment issues in China, Beijing often makes usage of some Chinese labor, mandatory in multibillion-dollar projects. This is one of the common schemes of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) contracts. Westerners often use this aspect of the BRI projects to present them as Chinese political takeover.
In the coming weeks and months when the Western media analyses the Iran-China economic pact, it is important to keep in mind that it will have a political twist. So far, the corporate media’s coverage has been quite sensationalist. Analysis of the anticipated economic treaty which is supposedly injecting $400 billion investment into Iran’s economy is primarily based on unconfirmed data. Even the US congress-financed RFERL propaganda outlet admitted that no one can really confirm the authenticity of the so-called leaked document and whether the document is a memorandum of understanding or a formal treaty.
No matter what the eventual details of the Iran-China pact, it is another major step in the emergence of a multipolar world order. For the first time in 50 years, a Muslim state is playing a crucial role in such a grand shift of events and most importantly, a self-charted role, in the new global political architecture.