Since the 1990s China has successfully been expanding its influence in the
Middle East and Iran in particular without attracting the attention of the
China views Iran as a significant potential ally in its attempts to
counter-balance western power. Clearly Iran serves as a major source of oil.
In addition, it is a leading geopolitical player in the region, capable of
heavily affecting the political balance in the Middle East.
In addition to energy, China is extensively involved in many areas of Iran's
economic development. To help develop Iran's economy, empower it, and open up
consumer markets for Chinese-made goods as well as investment opportunities have
become China policy priorities. More than 100 Chinese state companies are
working in Iran to help build infrastructure projects-highways, ports,
shipyards, airports, dams, steel complex and more.
One becomes impressed by the supply of inexpensive Chinese products in the
supermarkets and department stores of Tehran and other large Iranian cities like
Esfahan, Shiraz, Tabriz and Mashhad. Two-way trade reached $ 11 billion in 2008.
China, Russia and Iran have all become major players in the Asian Energy
Security Grid, which was established to counter perceived Western hegemony over
the World's energy resources. Furthermore Iran is a passive member of the
Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which sets out to promote Beijing's
interests. Established in June of 2001, the SCO is an expansion of the "Shanghai
Five, a regional grouping begun in 1996. China appears to be receptive to
Iranian efforts to expand its role in this grouping.
The national interests of Iran and China are in clear contradiction to the
presence of the American military forces in Central Asia. Its members are China,
Russia, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Many
observers believe that one of the original purposes of the SCO is to serve as a
counterbalance to NATO.
Since the 1980s Iran's eagerness to bolster its military and its weapons
production capabilities has been given considerable assistance by China, which
is very cleverly gaining influence and popularity by transferring arms
technology. These arms sales have earned China billions of dollars and billions
of gallons of oil through "oil for arms" schemes and enabled Iran in its
sponsoring of insurgents and Shiite terrorists in Iraq and other Persian Gulf
states. Thus, Iran is now a major threat to the Arab states, Israel and even the
The serious military hardware China has supplied to Iran has included over $1
billion dollars worth of Silkworm cruise missiles, some of which were fired at
two U.S. oil tankers in 1987 in the Persian Gulf and the Silkworm's successor,
the Chinese Eagle Strike.
Iran has a large number of Chinese made C-801 and C-802 anti-ship missiles
deployed in coastal batteries along the eastern shore of the waterway, aboard
ships and on island in the Strait of Hormuz. The missiles are expected to play a
key role in any effort to block or control the waterway. The narrow shipping
lane is ideal for the use of anti-ship missiles. Over the past several years,
U.S. coalition naval forces in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea have
conducted a series of exercises aimed at countering possible Iranian attempts to
close the Strait of Hormuz whether the Iranians use large swarms of small,
high-speed armed craft or maritime suicide attacks.
Iran claims it has massed a fleet of 1000 low-tech speedboats to counter the
U.S. Fifth Fleet's armada of 30-40 high-tech warships. Broadsides of cruise
missiles would be more dangerous. Iran has three frigates and 20 fast attack
craft including Chinese supplied Huodong boats, capable of mounting such
In 2008, Iran also again test-fired Shihab 3 missile, which it says put Israel
within range. Such an intermediate range ballistic missile and much longer
versions, the Shihab 4 and 5 are under development with China's assistance. On
Dec. 16, Iran also test-fired what it said was a faster version of a
medium-range missile which could allow it to strike Israel, drawing
international censure and warnings of "serious" fallout. The Sejil 2, powered by
solid fuel, is capable according to Iran of traveling 2,000 kilometers, which
would put arch-foe Israel, the Arab states and even parts of Europe within
range. North Korea and even China may have assisted Iran in developing this
Although China has vehemently denied it, it would seem from international
intelligence reports that Beijing has also been supplying Iran and other rogue
states with WMD, including nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. China has
reportedly been a major focus of Iranian procurement activities, with Iranian
front companies successfully acquiring nuclear-related materials from China in
recent years. The two countries are known to have signed nuclear accords in
1989, and again in 1991, paving the way for what would become a vibrant and
multifaceted atomic partnership.
China's assistance is not just confined to hardware. Clearly China's secret
services gave the Tehran regime intelligence assistance during and after the
disputed presidential election in June 2009, we are informed. There has even
been some hints that Russian and Chinese services have cooperated in providing
the Clerics and particularly the IRGC military intelligence.
Some western observers regard China, a long time ally of Iran and a major buyer
of Iranian oil and gas, as key in persuading Iran to give up its sensitive
nuclear work. In reality, however, Beijing has its own agenda toward Iran and
the Middle East and is reluctant to consider steps that might hurt its strategic
ties with Iran and endanger its crucial economic interests.
Economically China's strategic ties with Iran have to some extent been made
easier. Since Royal Dutch Shell and Respol withdrew in 2008 and France's Total
announced it was to abandon its investment in a huge gas project in Iran's South
Pars Field, Iran's Pars Oil and Gas Company and the China National Offshore Oil
Corp. have agreed to exploit the North Pars Gas field and sell the gas on
Only Angola and Saudi Arabia supply more oil to China than Iran. China is Iran's
biggest oil customer. In the future their relationship will be given long-term
stability via an agreement by which China's oil giant Sinopec Group will help
develop Iran's Yadavaran oil field in return for Iran's commitment to supply
150,000 barrels of oil a day for 25 years at market price.
Beijing policy toward Iran epitomizes its policy toward other major states of
the Middle East region, with some variations. Arms sales, especially missiles,
have been a very effective instrument in China's efforts to make inroads to the
Middle East. This approach in addition to earning valuable foreign exchange, has
helped China to foster diplomatic and strategic ties with Iran, Syria and Saudi
All indications suggest that China will not stop at building up strategic
alliances in the Middle East and Africa, where it already has strong economic
ties. It also has a significant relationship with North Korea. In South America,
Panama, Venezuela and Brazil are all keen to develop closer relations with
China. Brazil Indeed, in its attempts to extend its own global reach has forged
links not only to China but also to Iran.
To some extent the USA has neglected China's growing influence. It has failed to
recognize the skill with which China has been able to expand its geopolitical
will. Iran, the new regional power in the Middle East, has at least one
guaranteed ally among the permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Dr.Fariborz Saremi is a political and military analyst living in Germany. He
is the spokesperson for the Azadegan Foundation in Germany and a contributor to
the Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis.