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An Iran-China 25-Year Agreement: Wishful Thinking Or A 'Lion-Dragon Pact'?

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson of China urged the United States to lift sanctions on Iran immediately amid the Middle Eastern country’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. March 16, 2020
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson of China urged the United States to lift sanctions on Iran immediately amid the Middle Eastern country’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. March 16, 2020

Iran's former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says, "The Iranian nation will not recognize a new secret 25-year agreement between Iran and China," and warned that any contract signed with a foreign country without the people knowing about it will be void.

Ahmadinejad was referring to vague reports recently about signing a long-term cooperation agreement with China, but no one has disclosed the details of a possible agreement or said how far such a project has progressed.

According to the former President's Telegram channel, Ahmadinejad said on Saturday June 27 during a visit to Gilan Province that the Rouhani administration has approved the draft of the agreement in its “final months” in office. Rouhani’s term ends next June.

It was a masterful, populist jab by Ahmadinejad, who took to opportunity to appear as a nationalist defender of Iran’s sovereignty.

Last week, the conservative news website Tabnak revealed that the Rouhani administration has approved a 25-year deal and that Rouhani has tasked Foreign Minister Javad Zarif with finalizing talks with the Chinese side.

Meanwhile, in an unusual frontpage banner, the IRGC-linked newspaper Javan called the agreement "A pact between the Lion and the Dragon".

However, Zarif told reporters in Tehran last week that "there is no contract," and that he simply is going to talk about bilateral cooperation with China.

Later, in an odd tweet in Chinese on June 24, Zarif said that he was going to follow up on a 2016 agreement with China titled "The Cino-Iranian Comprehensive Strategic Partnership," that was a $400 billion project.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi on Monday denied “reports about the 25-year contract with China” but did not say what is it exactly he is denying. However, he added that “the document is a source for pride and secures the interests of both nations.”

In fact, all the noise about a long-term agreement with China seems to nothing more than a wish on Iran’s part to forge a deal with Beijing, which has so far been silent about it. Most probably, China has not endorsed any document and what is being sold is a plan Iran would want to see becoming a reality.

But Iranian users on social media took reports seriously and generally condemned the agreement. Some people likened it to the 1828 Treaty of Turkmenchai between Iran and Russia based on which Iran (then called Persia) ceded the control of large parts of its territory to Russia.

Tabnak quoted Rouhani as having said that the agreement between China and Iran is among other things about bilateral cooperation in the areas of infrastructure, free trade zones and assimilation of investment in the areas of tourism, information technology and communication.

Using his usual jargon that has proved meaningless during the past seven years, Rouhani said "this is a long-term plan based on a win-win approach."

Having seen the fate of his most famous win-win accord, the nuclear deal with the West or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it is difficult to make any prediction about yet another "comprehensive" plan.

Even Tabnak is not sure about how serious the deal is. The website, which is close to former IRGC Commander Mohsen Rezai puts forward reasons why it doubts the agreement: "Because the details of the agreement have not been published, it is not clear when and if the Chinese side would approve the document, it is the first long-term strategic cooperation document in 40 years with a foreign government, and because the final approval of the document by China as a superpower would be tantamount to a final turn to the East. "

Meanwhile, according to pro-Ahmadinejad Telegram channel @Dolatebahar, "some of the Chinese companies" possibly involved in this project "have Iranian owners or shareholders, which means they are the relatives of officials who have come up with the project. "

Meanwhile, Radio Farda's Iran analyst Reza Haqiqatnezhad wrote on Twitter that "most of the information released about the Cino-Iranian agreement are not true. It is not a contract. It is an invitation sent by Iran including its wishful thinking hoping to persuade China to join in."

He reminded that "China cannot enter into a $400 billion contract with Iran while it is unable to buy oil from Iran due to U.S. sanctions," adding that as a result of the sanctions, financial transactions between Iran and China is more than 20 times less that what Iran is dreaming to gain by this contract."