Dynamics of Emerging Cooperation between Russia- China- Iran
In its bid to strengthen its strategic position in the Middle East, China has embarked on gaining the support of Iran. It has been just more than a week when the international economic sanctions on Iran are lifter, but China has already visited Iran and signed a myriad of economic agreements with the country in Tehran. At a joint press conference, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he and Chinese President Xi Jinping had signed a “comprehensive 25-year document” on strategic relations.
During the one day visit, they signed 17 agreements, including long term contracts on energy, railways, ports and technology parks construction and plans to cooperation in industrial, mining and tourism sectors. The two countries are to increase bilateral trade from USD$50 billion to USD$600 billion, a more than 10-fold increment, in 10 years’ time. Within that, China would invest in a 900 km high-speed rail link between Urumqi, China and Teheran, Iran as a part of its One Belt One Road project, a network of road, rail and port routes connecting China to Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. Analysts comment that that the One Belt One Road (OBOR) project is a manifestation of the continental dimension of China’s geo-strategic realm.
It consists of a network of rail routes, overland highways, oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructural projects, stretching from Xian in Central China, through Central Asia and Russia, and linking up with the trans-Siberian railway and going on to Moscow, Rotterdam and Venice. In a major strategic gain, China has managed to secure the participation of Russia in the Eurasian component of the OBO initiative, with China and Russia engaging in what the latter regards cooperation in its “near neighbourhood”.
China’s ambition to create economic corridors and strategic gains in Iran is also getting attention of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Russia has entered into a number of agreements with Iran recently. In April 2015, at the Moscow conference on International Security (MICS), the Iranian Defence Minister, Brigadier-General Hussein Dehghan, Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu and Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan emphasized that cooperation among these three countries was strategically in synch in their push towards a new multipolar order.
Security analysts also look upon this tripartite cooperation as a check against the eastward expansion of the US led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Russia’s decision to build two further nuclear reactors at the Bushehr in Iran is perceived as Russia’s determination to challenge the United States leadership and counter Western’s efforts to isolate the Iranian regime. In December 2015, Russian Minister of Trade and Industry Denis Manturov remarked during his visit to Tehran that “Russia is interested in dialogue with Iran about the potential of cooperation in aviation, shipbuilding, energy, agriculture and transportation, metallurgy, pharmaceutical and other industries.” Iranian Foreign Ministry Mohammad Javad Zarif recently remarked that Iran has emerged from decades of crippling Western sanctions with stronger ties to China and Russia.
In 2015, Moscow had already started, in practice, a $20 billion oil-for-goods swap with Tehran – exchanging grain, equipment, and construction materials for up to 500,000 barrels of Iranian crude a day. Emulating China, Russia has also started the massive project of connecting South Russia to Iran and Russia to China. There thus emerges a strong possibility of a new tripartite group of the 3 partners, a new G-3 in Eurasia. This new G-3 in Eurasia would act as bulwark to NATO coalition of the West. It is in the interest of the West to engage this rising G3 in an effective manner in order to achieve a balance of power in the global order.