Iran Turns to China and India In the Face of US Sanctions

Photo: Indian President Ram Nath Kovind (left), Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (centre) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 17 February 2018 in New Delhi. The three-day “substantive and productive” talks helped boost cooperation in areas of defense and security, trade and investment, and energy. Rouhani and Modi also deliberated on regional situations in their wide-ranging talks. Credit: media.mehrnews.com

Viewpoint by Mohammad Soltaninejad 10 January 2020

Mohammad
Soltaninejad is Assistant Professor of Middle East studies at the
University of Tehran. This article appeared in the most recent edition
of East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Economics and security’, Vol. 11 No. 4.

TEHRAN
(IDN-INPS) – In the face of the United States withdrawing from the Iran
nuclear deal and adopting a ‘maximum pressure’ policy against Iran,
Tehran is turning to China and India to circumvent US sanctions. In
response, the United States is trying to deny Iran’s access to Chinese
and Indian resources to pressure Iran into returning to the negotiation
table.

Both
China and India have long had the potential to become strategic
partners to Iran, but efforts to establish such partnerships were
undermined by the United States. Yet the idea of strategic partnerships
remains alive due to the geopolitical and geo-economic factors that link
China and India to the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Central Asia. A
review of the dynamics of Tehran’s relations with Beijing and New Delhi
suggests various avenues of cooperation in the face of U.S. policies
against Iran.

Beijing is showing a hesitant willingness to continue working with Tehran. China continued to import Iranian oil despite U.S. sanctions and news leaked about negotiations over China’s prospective investment of US$280 billion
in Iran’s oil and gas industry. Replacing the dollar with the renminbi
as a transactions currency has facilitated China-Iran trade and
financial cooperation.

To
cope with the U.S. policy of containment, China relies on Iran to
diversify its energy supply. The majority of China’s oil imports
currently pass through the Strait of Malacca, which is controlled by
U.S. allies in Southeast Asia. China can overcome this strategic
predicament if Iran’s gas flow is connected to the Gwadar Port pipelines
in Pakistan. This explains China’s readiness to invest in the
development of the southeastern Iranian port of Chabahar from which
Beijing can also access Afghanistan, Central Asia and Russia.

Iran
also wants India’s support to counter U.S. pressures. India preceded
China in establishing constructive strategic ties with Iran. During the
2000s, Iran-India relations experienced unprecedented progress that led
to India’s pledging to invest in Iran. Back then, Iran was trying to
counterbalance the United States after it included Iran, with Iraq and
North Korea, in the ‘axis of evil’.

The
U.S. invasion of Iraq after Afghanistan alarmed Iran further and pushed
it to strengthen ties with second-tier powers, including India. India
found developing ties with Iran beneficial. The International
North-South Transport Corridor could connect India to Central Asia and
Russia, and Iran could increase India’s influence in the Arabian Sea.
Strategic and economic reasons to establish a partnership between Iran
and India still persist. India has strategic interests in developing
ties with Iran and is the greatest investor in Chabahar’s development.

In
theory, India-Iran cooperation should be easier than that of
China-Iran. Washington is more tolerant of India’s deepening relations
with Iran as its interests in the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the
Persian Gulf are best served if India and Iran work together.

With
U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan, India can protect U.S. interests by
fighting terrorism and strengthening the central government in Kabul.
This would be difficult to achieve unless India has easy access to
Afghanistan. Given the rivalry between India and Pakistan, Iran remains the best route that connects India to Afghanistan. This explains the United States’ decision to waive sanctions on India’s investment in Chabahar.

But in practice, India is showing reluctance to work with Iran after the United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear deal. India stopped purchasing Iranian oil in May 2019 and reduced the budget
allocated to the development of Chabahar. Financial arrangements to
facilitate trade between Iran and India are in flux, meaning that
importing Indian medicine, food and other commodities will become more
difficult for Iran. The major problem was that the suppliers of the
equipment that Chabahar needs were not willing to make deliveries because they feared adverse impacts on their business with the United States.

Tehran
is convinced that India cannot be the partner it needs to counter U.S.
sanctions. India owes its rising power status, in part, to its
increasingly close relationship with the United States. No matter how
valuable Iran is for India, New Delhi would not endanger its relations
with Washington for the sake of preserving its friendship with Tehran.

Although
Iranians are well aware that Beijing would not sacrifice its relations
with the United States for its partnership with Iran, they still believe
that China will support Iran more strongly than India. China’s
continuing trade with Iran and the purchase of Iranian oil is proof of
that.

From
an Iranian perspective, China’s rise is quite different from that of
India’s. India’s economic and military development contributes more to
preserving the pro-U.S. international status quo, while China’s rise is
seen to come at the cost of the United States’ global position and
points towards a balanced global power distribution.

Still,
Iranian public opinion does not support a close partnership with China.
If Iran–China ties grow substantially and quickly, the Iranian
government is likely to find it difficult to convince its people that
the independence from the West that they gained so expensively will not
be lost to dependence on China. [IDN-InDepthNews – 30 December 2019]

Photo:
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind (left), Iranian President Hassan
Rouhani (centre) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 17 February 2018 in
New Delhi. The three-day “substantive and productive” talks helped
boost cooperation in areas of defense and security, trade and
investment, and energy. Rouhani and Modi also deliberated on regional
situations in their wide-ranging talks. Credit: media.mehrnews.com

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.



Source: South Asia Journal
Click to read article at Source Iran Turns to China and India In the Face of US Sanctions

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