Ali Khamenei, our Führer, had another new year gift of his making for us: a China–Iran Agreement for 25 years’ cooperation. In 2019, his contribution to the country’s miseries was nominating a fundamentalist and professionalhangman, Ebrahim Raisi, as the head of the Judiciary power. This year, he outdid himself by tying the fate of Iran, economically poor and underdeveloped, to that of a super locomotive of economic growth and innovation, China.
The Iranian authorities hailed the Agreement as a give and take cooperation between countries of equal powers. Some laughed up their sleeves, quite rightly so.
The China–Iran Agreement is a mystery gift, kept under wraps and sealed. It smells of bitter almonds, inducing nausea, anxiety, confusion.
Both countries, Iran and China, have a long history of opacity in their affairs. None of them has an honest, propaganda-free media. Both, routinely and unashamedly, monitor, oppress and eliminate their critics. An open secret in town.
China–Iran: A Lopsided Affair
The Chinese–Iranian “friendly” relationships are not a new phenomenon. For decades, the Chinese sought to import cheap oil. The Iranians, throttled by the sanctions imposed internationally by the Americans, obliged. A barter system of oil for consumer goods led to Chinese junk swamping the shops in Iran.
As D. Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, his administration squeezed the Iranians with more secondary sanctions. More often than not, en route to a Chinese port, the oil, leaving the Iranian shores, has acquired a new nationality. Nonetheless, the Chinese’s import of Iranian oil decreased by 62%, while its export to Iran dropped by 7%. Iran relies on Chinese goods, but China does not need the Iranian oil so much.
Despite four decades of propaganda on its economic brilliant achievements (ayatollah-ish words), Iran relies on exporting oil for 80 per cent of its revenues. For the religious despots, it is much easier to sing their own praises with Islamic rhymes and empty promises than to manage an efficient economy, away from the bigotry of Economy of Resistance.
The monies earned are squandered on spending on proxy Shiite militias, nuclear centrifuges and ballistic missiles, or any other of the IRGC’s growing number of whimsy desires.
Usually, the Islamic Republic makes lots of noise about its international relations. Either an agreement with a supposed friend, or discord with a foe, Tehran beats the drums and chants with utmost extravagant adjectives.
In the Iranian foreign relation rhetoric, politicians from the arrogant and corrupt EU countries, the UK, and USA, truly first-class idiots, must be slapped in the face, etc.
With China, nothing of the sort, drums are mute. What strikes most in reading Iranian declarations is the absence of adjectives in the official statements carefully worded.
Personal visits between the Supreme Leader and Chinese presidents have been a constant factor, but always reported in a low-key fashion. Just after becoming the new Supreme Guide of Iran, in 1989, Khamenei, flew to China and North Korea. He met Mr Deng Xiaoping during his visit to China and admired his great wisdom (sic, communiqué of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China).
Thereafter, Khamenei has not travelled overseas; if foreign dignitaries wish to meet with His Most Revered Highness, they must go to Tehran. En route, the powerful men that have visited him, such as V. Putin or Xi Jinping, would surely have had some caustic thoughts and ulterior motives.
In 2002, President Jiang Zemin, on a state visit to Iran, met with Khamenei for friendly talks. He [was] convinced the visit will play a positive role in promoting the overall growth of the China-Iran friendly relations of cooperation in the new century.
In January 2016, the Chinese Paramount Leader Xi Jinping and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei met in Tehran.
The Iranian media and official archives available on the Web are poor and disordered in retracing the China–Iran relationship. However, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides the basic facts and dates. Interestingly, the tone and wordings of these resources speak volumes: Iran is in awe of an overlord. In return, China is polite and circumspect.
Iran’s New Qiblah: Beijing
Iran needs allies, as any country in the world would. However, in an ideological Islamic Republic such as Iran, based on dogmatism hammered into Iranians since 1979, there are aspects that are worthy of a closer look.
Ever since the rejection of American influence four decades ago, the slogan that took millions of politically naive Iranians to the streets, Neither East nor West, Islamic Republic!نه شرقی، نه غربی، جمهوری اسلامی, has adorned an entrance to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
For the Islamic Republic, no to the West (inclusive: EU, UK, USA and Israel) is a must and one of its many religious pillars. A pious Iranian should not tolerate the misogynist, corrupt, unjust and criminal West (all adjectives are from Khamenei’s website).
In 1979, China was of no interest to the crass bigots of Qom: too remote, too poor and too communist. Adding East to their slogan was not out of political interest; it rhymed in Farsi and hinted to an absolute independence that has never existed in the history of mankind, but has been sweet to the ears of the revolutionaries and their overblown nationalistic arrogance.
As China was on the path to becoming the “factory of the world” and the globalisation of trade made its way into many minds, an understated rapprochement between the Islamic Republic and Chinese communists was taking shape.
The Islamic Republic needs an ally that would buy the Iranian oil and exploit mines’ reserves of oredespite international trade difficulties, invest in the country, and not meddle with the Iranians’ gross human rights violations.
In fewer words, Iran is seeking a lifeline that would help the Islamic theocracy to stay in power by offering China Iranian natural resources at a bargain price. Faced with internal protests and strife among themselves, the ayatollahs may well want to use the China–Iran Agreement as crutches to avoid addressing internal difficulties, holding to their lies and bigotries, and even benefiting from the Chinese technology in gagging the population.
The Iranian officials and the media expressed themselves on the China–Iran Agreement; however, in the same breath, the USA’s misdemeanours and their conditional return to JCPOA were abundantly cited alongside China’s goodwill toward Iran.
As we have noted before, the media have a free hand to quote from the foreign dignitaries, unashamedly massage their words, and add phrases taken from the blueprint of the Islamic Republic’s propaganda.
This time was no exception. In reports from Wang Yi’s visit, it seemed that he was obsessed with the US–Iran–JCPOA triangle, many times repeating the very same words of the Islamic Republic: if the USA intends to return to JCPOA, it must lift the oppressive sanctions against Iran.
The Islamic Republic has strong words for the West when it comes to how Muslims are unjustly treated and abased in the land of unbelievers, and how Iran is the defender of the rights of Omat-e Islam in the world.
Tehran has no objection to the fate of Uyghurs under the rule of Chinese Communists. According to the published propagandist analysis in the Iranian media, Xinjiang is the den of terrorism and extremism and the best course of actions is to reform the inhabitants. The Iranian journalists dutifully reprint the Chinese publications.
In a visit to the Xinjiang province, the Iranian Ambassador to China, unashamedly praised [the Chinese] efforts to alleviate poverty. Therefore, the people of Xinjiang are enjoying a better life.
If needed, Khamenei, never short of ideas, would proclaim a fatwa on the Iranians for a mandatory religious duty, a pilgrimage to Beijing or anywhere else that the Paramount Leader of China and the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Mr Xi Jinping would indicate them to go.
A Murky Business
Earlier, we shared the grim view that the new Iranian year of 1400 had inspired. The gloom we felt was slowly dissipating with spring breeze, but in its place came another emotion: the same bitterness of a deeply painful deception when, in 1979, Iran bowed to fanaticism of the Islamic Republic.
Today, many fear the ruling of a new unbending and uncompromising overlord, impacting and helping to harden the ayatollahs’ decisions and policies in the domestic sphere.
To reduce the effect of a bombshell, in the middle of the most sacred Iranian holidays during which almost all activities are stopped and the government offices have shut down, the news of concluding a 25-year Chinese-Iranian Cooperation Agreement was announced.
The cooperation was expected since 2016, when Xi Jinping visited Khamenei. In 2020, amid a mild scuffle of controversy, it was revived in public.
In July 2020, The New York Times wrote: The partnership, detailed in an 18-page proposed agreement obtained by The New York Times, would vastly expand Chinese presence in banking, telecommunications, ports, railways and dozens of other projects. In exchange, China would receive a regular — and, according to an Iranian official and an oil trader, heavily discounted — supply of Iranian oil over the next 25 years.
The document also describes deepening military cooperation, potentially giving China a foothold in a region that has been a strategic preoccupation of the United States for decades. It calls for joint training and exercises, joint research and weapons development and intelligence sharing — all to fight “the lopsided battle with terrorism, drug and human trafficking and cross-border crimes.”
A vast project that the China–Iran Agreement of April 2021 may have included all these points, and probably gone beyond.
For now, all we know is that we know nothing at all.
The China–Iran Agreement is a murky business since neither partners have published a comprehensive brief. The details are hush-hush.
Ali Rabei, spokesman of the Government, said: The Iranian Government has no objection to the full release of this document. However, the other side [Chinese] may not have been willing to release it due to some considerations.
OK, then. It’s all the Chinese’s fault if today we are in the dark.
This is how the Nezam, Velayat-e Faqih, considers the population: with contempt and scorn.
Sooner or later, the Islamic Republic will face the ruthless realities of dealing with Beijing. The more the Chinese focus on the value of their trade and businesses, the more likely they are to get involved in the gutters of Iranian politics. The Chinese may also think that they could buy Iranian decision makers for a price, a sound assumption, to protect their investments.
No matter the rhetoric in Tehran, China will always care about the USA more than it will consider the perfidious and corrupt garden gnomes in Tehran.
For the Chinese, Iran is a pawn in the bigger game of Middle-Eastern politics, easily crippled for the sake of their higher priorities. Within the ambitious plan of China’s $900 billion New Silk Road, Iran is on the map. Whenever that happens, the Islamic Republic has not the means of playing solo in the region.
As long as Iran stays put and does not become a stone in the Chinese shoe, it may benefit from the crumbs of China’s advances. Many Chinese businesses, including government-linked and government-owned companies, would not shy away from the use of corrupt practices.
Chinese corruption would reinforce the innate Iranian domestic corruption.
Disastrously Disarrayed Opponents
The secrecy around the Agreement fuelled negative speculation about its content to the effect of “Iran is not for sale”.
Many Iranians rightly felt that the 80 million blathering Iranians are of little weight to 1.4 billion disciplined Chinese people, and a bunch of quarrelling bigot ayatollahs, sly as foxes, are no match for a slyer and super-organised communist party with ruthless ambitions.
The China–Iran Agreement is both a drama and the marriage of a carp and a rabbit. The dowry being the natural resources of Iran; the mullahs are selling out of economic desperation.
There were outcries on social media from the diasporas. To which, the barking dogs of the Valiy-e Faqih answered by personal attacks and invectives: enemies of Iran, traitors, American mercenaries, Zionist spies, Saudi vipers, etc.
The diasporas also used bird-names, in the same manner that the barking dogs of the regime did. They reviled each other instead of trying to express themselves clearly, argue appropriately, and intelligently refute or accept it.
Since 1979, and the grip of theocracy, we have not bathed in beautiful and spiritual concepts. To the contrary, if there was one, we would win the first prize in devising foul language.
In less than a week after the signing of the Agreement, things have quietened down, as they have done on a number of occasions in the past four decades. In their public outcry, most Iranians are comparable to milk on fire. Once emotions have boiled over and they have burst out crying, things calm down, as if nothing has ever happened.
For now, the Islamic Republic is more anxious to use the opaque China–Iran Agreement as a leverage, a trump card in renegotiating the JCPOA. They even shout it from the rooftops.
Don’t hold your breath for a happy outcome from a cosy China–Iran Agreement. It will dearly cost the Iranian people. China walks softly but carries a big stick.
Remember, the Islamic Republic is already flirting with Russia. V. Putin plays with the ayatollahs, does a bit of backscratching till he gets what he wants. In his politics, annoying the EU and the US in the process is a bonus.
A revived JCPOA, if ever it happens, would only let money to flow into the theocratic caskets. But, at the end of the day, EU members, the UK and the USA, when it comes to their interests are no better that China and Russia. Erratics, they sow havocs in their wake, camouflaging their elder fiascos by new ones. Though, there is a little difference, at least they keep up some appearances, and provide the space the Iranian diasporas need to live in peace and speak up freely if they choose to.
None of these add up to better days in Iran, as long as the negotiation brokers are Tehran’s nepotists in contempt of the population’s welfare.
But, as a nation, we have sat on our hands and let things happen, even if we have grumbled occasionally and have often paid a disproportionate price for it.
Each and every Iranian, wherever they live, inside or outside the country, butt lickers or loathers of the regime, apathetic patriots or fiery nationalists, atheists or staunch Shiites, equally share the burden of the country’s current failure and miseries.
We are blind and deaf to one argument: the key in ending the Islamic Republic is in our hands, we are the people, we are the power.
Our sin is voluntarily submitting to decades of despotism, as long as a little profit comes to us. The wickedness lies in our unwillingness to talk to each other, and focus on how to remove the political regime that is destroying our country.
Our treason to our country comes from refusing to envisage a collective future. We shout our nationalism, but we do not care about its practical realities founded on a coherent vision.
If the Islamic Republic is thought to be so mismanaged as to be on the brink of collapse, we do not know how to replace it. Our crime toward future generations is that we prefer today’s little individual comfort to collectively sweating blood for a better life for all.
A bunch of undisciplined bickering birds on Twitter will certainly not be able to echo hopes for political changes. Their tweets are no more than jingles hoping for a short-lived self-seeking paltry kudos. Their unequivocal incompetence would even prevent them from picking up the pieces, even if the Islamic Republic implodes naturally.
We can always claim and hope that history will judge the money-grabbing traitors, the mullahs. This is another sweet jingle to the ears, but a worthless cliché. The best would be to have them tried fairly in a court of justice, before our own eyes.
We gave them the power in 1979, but we never wanted to get it back, we are scared of ourselves more than them. Perhaps we collectively enjoy being humiliated as victims and having someone to blame. We are always responsible for our choices.