America and the Iran-China Bond

Chinese investments of billions of dollars in energy and infrastructure projects will soften the effect of US sanctions in Iran

During the recent visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian to China, Chinese Foreign Minister Wan Yi reaffirmed China’s opposition to unilateral sanctions by the US against Iran but backed efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed in 2015. Yi said China firmly opposes illegal unilateral sanctions against Iran, political manipulation through topics including human rights, and interference in the internal affairs of Iran and other regional countries.

Chinese investments of billions of dollars in energy and infrastructure projects will soften the effect of US sanctions in Iran…

Amir-Abdollahian announced the launch of the Iran-China 25-year Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement signed in March 2021, which benefits both countries and  unites them in opposing the US.  The agreement focuses on economic cooperation and enhancement of diplomatic ties but enables China to strengthen its foothold in the Middle East to undermine the US and further secures access to Iranian oil and other commodities. Chinese investments of billions of dollars in energy and infrastructure projects will soften the effect of US sanctions in Iran while Chinese projects will be undertaken by PLA owned firms with PLA deployments to guard them. Since last year, Iran is also a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

In 2018, US President Donald Trump had re-imposed sanctions on Iran after withdrawing from the JCPOA saying the terms were not enough to curb Iran’s nuclear activities, ballistic missile program and regional influence. The crippling US sanctions have forced Iran closer to China, the same way the US sanctions have bonded Russia with China. Iran’s hatred towards the US increased with Trump ordering the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, Quds Force Commander through a US drone strike at Baghdad International Airport on January 3, 2020 citing reasons of threat to the US. However, killing of Soleimani was termed ‘unlawful’ by the United Nations, with Agnes Callamard, UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, saying that the US had not provided sufficient evidence of an imminent threat to life to justify the attack.

Following the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, Iran issued arrest warrants for US President Donald Trump and 35 others on charges of murder and terrorism in connection with the killing. On the second anniversary of Soleimani’s killing in January this year, General Esmaeil Ghaani, present Quds Force Commander of the Iran’s IRGC stated, “We tell Americans that you still have time to leave the geography around us in humiliation, otherwise you will be expelled from all this geography worse than what you experienced in Afghanistan.” This would be scoffed at in the US but indicates the bitterness in Iran.

Over the years, actions by the US have instigated Iran to go nuclear, however indirect, for which the US cannot absolve itself. Some of these are as follows:

Pakistan became the nuclear leader of the Sunni-Muslim world, which was watched by Iran heading the Shia-Muslims.

  •  The US deliberately looked the other way as China gave nuclear technology to Pakistan and nuclear capable Silkworm missiles to Saudi Arabia. Pakistan became the nuclear leader of the Sunni-Muslim world, which was watched by Iran heading the Shia-Muslims.
  •  Nuclear proliferation by Pakistan invited little reaction by the US. Pakistan deflected the blame as private actions by Abdul Qadeer Khan, considered ‘father’ of the Pakistani nuclear bomb who was not even questioned by the CIA, while ‘mothers’ of the bomb (Musharraf and the ISI) laughed all the time.
  •  Public disclosure by General Wesley Clark,  former Supreme Allied Commander NATO, in March 2007 that in 2001, the US had already decided to take out seven counties over the next five years starting with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and  finishing off with Iran.
  •  In December 2003, Libyan leader Muammar Al-Gaddafi agreed to eliminate Libya’s weapons of mass destruction program (including nuclear weapons) in return to the US lifting sanctions, and full destruction of chemical weapons to be completed by 2016. But the US did not withdraw sanctions fast enough and bring Libya into the mainstream. The US-NATO attacked Libya in 2011, capturing and killing Gaddafi.
  •  The US invaded Iraq in 2003 on the false pretext that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction, even lying to the US Congress.

Because of the unreliability of the US in Libya, Iraq and now Afghanistan, even current allies of the US are unsure how much US support they can bank upon when the balloon goes up.

  •  While in Afghanistan, the US never attacked the terrorists camps that were mainly on the Pakistani side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and when questioned the usual response was “do you expect us to attack nuclear Pakistan?”
  •  The US can do little beyond sanctioning North Korea other than speculating whether North Korea’s recent missile tests were hypersonic (as claimed by Pyongyang) or not. North Korea and Pakistan are both nuclear talons of the Chinese Dragon and the US remains cozy with Pakistan.

Because of the unreliability of the US in Libya, Iraq and now Afghanistan, even current allies of the US are unsure how much US support they can bank upon when the balloon goes up. Despite all this, Iran is participating in the talks on the JCPOA though there doesn’t appear to be much light at the end of the tunnel. Iran has been saying that the US should first lift the sanctions, which is not acceptable to the US.

The option with the US still exists to end the sanctions, observe which way Iran is going before re-imposing sanctions, if required. However, the US wants to bully Iran into its geostrategic sphere which is unlikely to work. Iran in not Libya and its geostrategic location attracts multiple global players. Israel is against the revival of JCPOA and has threatened to attack Iran if that happens. But an Israel-Iran conflict will invariably draw in the US – and others?

Meanwhile, time is running out. On December 30, 2021, Iran launched a rocket with a satellite carrier bearing three devices into space though it is unclear whether any of the objects entered into the Earth’s orbit and what those devices were. On January 5, 2022, a drone was destroyed by the Iranian Air Defence in the vicinity of the Natanz nuclear facility, which according to reports was the test of an anti-aircraft missile system.

Suggestions in western media to undercut China-Iran ties like imposing more sanctions on Iran for its ties with China, and sanctioning China for importing Iranian oil are theoretical and not practical.

Following the sabotage of the Iran Centrifuge Assembly Center (ICAC) in July 2020, construction of the new Natanz underground complex, located in the mountainous area south of the main uranium enrichment site, has been accelerated. Western analysts are speculating that the new site may commence operations in 2022, reviving Iran’s yearly ability to deploy thousands of advanced centrifuges.

US focus is apparently shifting from the Middle East to Ukraine while China will keep it engaged in Taiwan and the South China Sea. But can the US afford to ignore the China-Iran bonds including their military ties? According to Becca Wasser, fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), the US military strategy has been linked to outdated priorities and should better reflect the country’s interests, including protection of the homeland, prevention of nuclear weapons proliferation and the free flow of commerce.

Suggestions in western media to undercut China-Iran ties like imposing more sanctions on Iran for its ties with China, and sanctioning China for importing Iranian oil are theoretical and not practical. America’s game of sanctions anyway has resulted in more forces aligned against it. More pragmatism will be required for return to the JCPOA. Finally, what if Iran goes nuclear when a nuclear Pakistan is more than acceptable to the West? In fact, Iran’s first nuclear test may well be on Chinese soil.

Source: Indian Defence Review

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