As an influential country in the region, Iran is an important outpost in the China-proposed ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative and also a key partner to promote the initiative, People’s Daily of China said in an artilce published on Saturday.
The article was published on the occassion of a visit to Tehran by Chinese President Xi Jinping who arrived in the Iranian capital Friday night heading a high-ranking delegation. This is the first visit to Iran by a Chinese president in 14 years.
Prior to his visit to Iran, President Xi wrote in a statement that Beijing gives great importance to Tehran and is ready to ‘join hands with Iran to renew the Silk Road spirit and create an ever better future for China-Iran relations.’
Below is the full text of the Chinese newspaper article on importance of Iran for China-proposed ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative:
‘Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived Iran on Friday night as the last leg of his first tour of the Middle East with stops also at Saudi Arabia and Egypt. This is the first visit to Iran by a Chinese president since 2002.
Xi’s trip comes against a backdrop of strife between Saudi and Iran after the former executed Shiite cleric and activist Nimr al-Nimr, triggering furious protest. But this is unlikely to hamper China’s relations with the two countries. Making the three Middle East countries as destinations of Xi’s first overseas trip in 2016 demonstrates the comprehensive advancement of major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics and this is a key step in elevating China’s overall relations with the Middle East to a higher phase.
In fact, Xi’s insistence on the trip despite the unrest in the Middle East will prompt parties to push forward the peace and stability in the region and reach a consensus on major issues, which will help ease the tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. As China’s Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Ming said, there will be no peace for the world with a messy Middle East.
China’s relationship with Iran is an important part of its overall ties with the Middle East. China and Iran have seen a series of high-level visits over the past two years and Xi’s trip is also a reciprocal one for the visit to China by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in May 2014. The two countries maintained friendly cooperation when Western countries imposed sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear program and they have close connections in energy security, economic complementarity and strategic cooperation. Over the past seven years China has been Iran’s top trading partner. The two-way trade reached $ 51.85 billion in 2014 and about 100 Chinese companies have a presence in Iran. Advancing the China-Iran relationship has been a consensus among the people and the leaders as Iran’s external environment is improving, and this will bolster stability and development in the Middle East.
Soon before the visit, the US and EU lifted sanctions on Iran and the nation is now able to re-engage with the global economy. Iran values the hard-earned peaceful environment to boost its economic and social development. But as Iran’s broad market is open, many Western reports asserted that Xi intentionally made Iran one of his destinations in this tour to ensure China’s predominant position in the Iranian market was uncontested and counter an influx of Western competitors. This is definitely a misreading.
The friendly cooperation between Beijing and Tehran during the times when Western countries were estranged from Iran has already laid sound foundations. As Rouhani said, ‘Iran will not forget its friends that had good relations with the country during the difficult conditions of sanctions. No power can influence good relations between Tehran and Beijing.’
Besides, China’s advantages in technology, infrastructure construction and capital can provide items Iran direly needs. Naturally Tehran will make its own choice during the re-engagement and tilt toward whoever can provide more benefits. Yet Iran is clearly aware what Western countries are able to offer. After all, they are extremely cautious in providing technology transfer and investment for countries like Iran. In this sense, China has no concerns for Western competitors and the bilateral cooperation will continue to move forward on current basis.
As an influential country in the region, Iran is an important outpost in the China-proposed ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative and also a key partner to promote the initiative. During Xi’s visit, the two sides are expected to deepen their consensus and bring notable outcomes in this regard. This will help build a corridor that connects China with Central Asia, Iran, West Asia and Europe, and reinvigorate the social and economic development of Asia and Europe. On this account, Xi’s visit to Iran is highly anticipated.
The author is a research fellow at the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.