The world does not treat the weak kindly, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iran’s Tasnim News Agency over the weekend.
“If you want China and Russia to pay attention to you, China and Russia must know that they are not your only choice,” he said. “If you want the West to pay attention to you, the West must know that it is not your only choice. No one treats the distressed well.”
Zarif was discussing allegations that he had not even read the 25-year agreement Iran signed with China this month.
Not only had he read it, he helped prepare the agreement last year, Zarif said. He was trying to make himself seem relevant to a media that views him suspiciously at home.
In the wide-ranging discussion, Zarif argued that power is shifting in the world from the West to Asia, and as such, Iran must work more closely with China and Russia and take them into account.
“The Chinese had a rule called peaceful emergence,” he said. “Every time we talked to China, they would say, ‘Give us 25 years.’ The words are the same, and their 25 years will never change.”
While Zarif admits that the US is still stronger globally in terms of security and defensive power, he knows Iran is growing its power in places such as the South China Sea.
“Russia and China do not want to compete and enter into security disputes with the United States,” he said.
In the interview, Zarif discussed why China and Russia did not grow closer to China until after the Iran deal of 2015 was signed. Clearly, his view is that Russia and China also want to work with the US on Iranian issues. Perhaps quietly, he is admitting what many do not acknowledge: that it is really Russia and China that Iran must please today.
While Iran tries to outplay the US on sanctions, Tehran knows it needs permission from Russia and China to develop its nuclear program. Iran has never tested what Russia and China might view as permissible, because it focuses its energies on the US.
“Undoubtedly, the transfer of power is taking place in the world now,” Zarif said. “China has now entered the field of technology competition from copying to innovation. You need to get into areas where China wants to compete, not areas where China does not want to compete. China has not decided on geostrategic competition, and it is incomprehensible to them when you use geostrategic literature.”
That means Iran must work with China on some files and not others. Zarif presents a keen understanding of Iran’s posture with China today.
Indicating that he wants China to view Iran as an equal, he said: “How much are they willing to pay for us? We realize that if they understand that we only want to play with them as a lever, they will not play with us, because China is not ready to enter the security game unless it has long-term benefits for it.”
Indeed, China does not want to be used by Iran. Iran wants to present itself as an equal and great power in dealings with China, even though it isn’t.
“I believe that relations with the East are one thing,” Zarif said. “Relations with the West are also their own original issue. Relations with our neighbors are the most essential, but if you look at relations with the East as a tool, people will understand.”
You should not expect an experienced Russian and Chinese diplomat to sit in front of you and realize that your policy is to use Russia and China as tools, he said.
Zarif’s assessment is that Iran must be careful to be trusted by its friends in China and Russia. It must balance them with the US and the West.
In a sense, what he is saying is that Iran fears being swallowed by China, and it fears China thinks it may try to use Beijing against the US.