China-Iran Relations in the Age of Globalization


Rashid Mehmood

The relationship between China and Iran can be traced back earlier; since the 13th century, the Mongol Empire consumed both countries. Both countries have undergone successive dynasties for more than two millennia. Both countries witnessed a revolution in the 20th century; present, China emerged as a revolutionary power in 1949, while Iran transformed its power in 1979 into international order dominated by the West.
Trade between both countries dates back to at least 200 B.C. Both countries have strong cultural and economic ties due to Asia’s ancient Silk Road. Regarding the geographical location of Iran, it is only 700 miles from China through its outer West border of Afghanistan. Both countries underwent huge pressure in their relationship when the U.S. imposed sanctions against Iran. Still, both countries are known as friends in difficult situations. In 2023, tension between Iran-US and China escalated, but both power China and Iran tackled it with wisdom. Iran mainly relies on China and has become the third leading partner of China in terms of business. Both countries have strong relationships in two areas, namely oil and gas and general traders. Large Chinese companies operate in Iran, showing both have strong political and economic terms. As per the Economist magazine report, the trade between China and Iran has grown at an average of 40% over the last few years. It is witnessed that trade between the two countries increased from $400 million in 1994 to $29 billion in 2008. The two countries signed a 25-year strategic agreement in 2021 to strengthen economic and security cooperation. Despite U.S. sanctions, China imported oil from Iran to sustain economic ties with Iran.
For a long time, China has been considered the largest trade partner of Iran. As per China’s official website, the trade between Iran and China was increased by up to seven per cent from 2021. In 2022 it was recorded at $16 billion. It has also been recorded that China imported record crude oil from Iran in December 2022. Iran was on track to join Shanghai Cooperation Organization for Economic and Security bloc by April 2023, which China and Russia lead. To secure its security from external power, Irani President Raisi hosted Wei Fenghe (the Chinese Defence Minister, in April 2022 to improve its strategic defence cooperation. Iran and China agreed to empower their military strategy by conducting a five-day joint military drill in the Gulf of Oman; despite the growing military ties between the two countries, Iran did not purchase arms and weapons from China between 2020-2022. Iran had changed its stance when the United States imposed its sanction on Tehran in 2018. Now Iran is looking to the East and they have extended its relationship with China to enhance its energy export. On the other hand, China has changed its economic power policy to political power to reach out to Iran’s natural resources and energy power.
Iran is trying to increase its diplomatic relations with China; in this regard, President Raisi travelled to Beijing in February 2023 to sign a billion-dollar project. During this visit, both countries signed 20 agreements on information technology, trade, tourism, crisis response, agricultural products, and many others. After this visit, China brokered a deal between Saudi Iran and Saudi Arabia to reopen its embassy and restore its diplomatic relations after two decades. With this in mind, both countries restored diplomatic relations, sought security relationships, and reopened their embassies in March 2023. This deal reaffirmed that both countries would never interfere in its internal affairs; the deal was also marked as significant by de-escalating its internal and external tensions. Most policymakers in Western Europe and America claimed that China has a personal interest in this deal. However, China proved to the world that it believes in the peaceful rise and loves to restore peace in the entire world. President of China Xi Jinping affirmed that China is a country which believes in a peaceful world and bilateral relations with all sovereign states. The deal between Iran and Saudi will pave the way for other Gulf regions and Muslim ummah to restore peace with Muslim countries and enhance trade and commerce. In short, the role of China in KSA and Tehran is a significant deal of the present century.
The relationship between China and Iran will open the door for bilateral trade and economic ties, further empowering the public and private sector institutions for free and special economic zones. The ties between both countries will enhance its strategic partnership in economic sectors and further cement the bilateral security cooperation, including the fight against terrorism. China and Iran will support each other in international bodies and regional organizations. It is said that “Bringing countries together above their conflicts requires great minds and great hearts.”