China’s FM Iran visit represents shift for the region

Iran wants to leverage China’s role in the region and show that it can resist the US. China also wants to reassure the West that Iran will safeguard the nuclear deal.

China flag  (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ECOW)
China flag
For Iran, the visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Tehran on an official two-day visit to hold talks with senior officials on the strategic relations is of great importance. Iran matters to China and the visit illustrates the importance that Tehran also sees in Beijing. The Chinese Foreign Minister is on a visit to several nations in the region, including Iran, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE and Turkey. This appears to showcase where Iran sees importance in the region. Several of these countries are US allies, but Turkey is drifting away from the West, and Iran is hostile to the US. That is important because China is currently sanctioning UK lawmakers in response to critique and sanctions over its policies.  
Why this matters is because Iranian media has discussed a 25-year agreement with China. On Thursday Reuters reported that “China will make efforts to safeguard the Iran nuclear deal and defend the legitimate interests of Sino-Iranian relations, the commerce ministry said on Thursday.” On Friday rumors of the Iran-China deal are growing. “The signing of the comprehensive cooperation program of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China by the foreign ministers of the two countries is another program of this two-day trip,” Iran’s state news agency IRNA said. 
This is a key regional and international development. Iran wants to leverage China’s role in the region and show that it can resist the US. China also wants to reassure the West that Iran will safeguard the nuclear deal. In short, this agreement with China is symbolic of a rapid drift to the east by Iran and the anchoring of the new China-Iran framework in a world order that may one day be led more by China than the West. This isn’t because Iran is an important or powerful economy. It is because China is showing it can play a role where Western leadership has been lacking. It does this by stepping in and showing that despite US rhetoric or sanctions, Beijing will do as it wants with Tehran. Beijing is also marking out other places that matter to it in the Middle East. This is part of a global, more robust Chinese foreign policy. This policy is causing concern from Australia to France and particularly in the US.  
For Iran is it welcomed. Foreign Minister Wang was on a six-country tour of West Asia, and he had arrived in Tehran at the invitation of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif after wrapping up his visits to Saudi Arabia and Turkey. He planned to travel to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and make a working visit to Oman, according to reports.  
Iran’s media sees this as a major shift, highlighting US press reports about how this has “thwarted” the US, according to Fars News. There will be some pushback and critique in Iran by those who wonder if Tehran has given to much to China. Also many wonder what is in the 25-year deal. But for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani this is an important step. Elections are looming. He wants to show he has achieved something.