Iran denies it will give China rights to islands for new trade deal
“There is no news of the transfer of Iranian islands, nor the presence of the military or other illusions,” former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called these rumors an old “trick.”
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
A rumor campaign in Iran, apparently being pushed by populist and nationalist voices, has asserted that a secret deal by the regime foresees a roadmap agreement with Beijing that would give China rights to some islands. Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi had to deny reports that there are islands at the center of a comprehensive program between Iran and China.Mousavi’s comments were reported on Tasnim and Fars News in Iran. He argued that China will be the world’s leading economic power in the new future and that it is time for Iran to link with this great power in Western Asia and leave behind the Western-dominated ones. This is a theme that pro-Iran voices, such as Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, also said yesterday.But there are those in Iran, apparently including former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who oppose these agreements. Therefore the Foreign Ministry said “there is no news of the transfer of Iranian islands, nor the presence of the military or other illusions.” He called these rumors an old “trick.”There are many small islands off the coast of Iran, some of which are strategic and important for navigation of the Persian Gulf. Tehran also has a free trade zone on Kish island, and has a deal with India about its Chabahar port, where there is also a free trade industrial area.Last December, China, Iran and Russia held a joint naval drill. Beijing and Tehran are moving closer together over other interests, such as the Belt and Road Initiative. China’s main interest is not in Iran’s regional strategy, but in economic work across the Middle East, regardless of ideology. Iran needs a way around sanctions. Mousavi says Iran and China have been working together for decades and that it is natural to have close ties.But there are rumors in Iran of a secret document related to a 25-year deal, and these rumors have led to speculation about granting China concessions or rights. Inevitably, someone has pushed forward rumors about islands and other details. It’s not the first time islands came to the forefront of Middle East controversy. There were controversies over islands in a deal between Egypt and Saudi Arabia in 2017. The UAE has been accused of muscling into Yemen’s Socotra Island, exploiting chaos in Yemen to do so. Turkey has sought to take over Sudan’s Suakin Island as well, in a deal going back to 2017.