By Faramarz Davar
July 8, 2020
An 18-page document prepared by the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and entitled Iran-China 25-year Comprehensive Partnership Document has been leaked to IranWire.
The report indicates a comprehensive cooperation program is in the works, aiming to promote strategic partnership between Iran and China in the areas of trade, security including the fight against terrorism, military cooperation, tourism and support of one other’s positions in international organizations.
If approved, the details of this plan in terms of the concessions given by Iran to a foreign country would be unprecedented in the Islamic Republic’s 41-year history. The draft was sent to China by foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and Chinese officials returned it to the authorities of the Islamic Republic after amending it with their comments. Although the basic structure of the document has been completed, some details have not yet been finalized and are still up for negotitation.
In a separate section, the document outlines the two countries’ most important shared concerns. These include the supply of crude oil, petrochemical products, renewable energy and civilian nuclear energy, the construction of highways, railways and maritime connections, and banking cooperation with national currencies. At the forefront of cooperation between the two governments of Iran and China, according to the report, will be the fight against money laundering, terrorism financing and organized crime.
The document explicitly states that the two governments are committed to protecting the implementation of this document in face of pressures from a “third country”: a veiled reference to US sanctions.
The draft envisages large-scale military cooperation between the two countries. This would include military maneuvers, defense requirements and the shared development of defense industries. Earlier, unconfirmed reports that Iran and China were preparing a joint arms trade project following the end of the UN Security Council’s arms embargo were published, indicating that the two countries have a 25-year plan in place.
Iran’s Commitment to Sell Crude Oil to China for 25 years
In the main objectives section of the 25-year Iran-China Cooperation document, the first target in relation to energy supply is Iran providing the energy required by China.
The document states that the Chinese government will “become a regular importer of Iranian oil” and “hopes that Iran will pay attention to China’s concerns about the return on investment in the country’s oil sector”. It adds that “the Chinese side will pay attention to optimal use of the financial resources gained from oil sales.”
The arrangement would mean Iran is committed to exporting crude oil to China for a quarter of a century, but China will only “pay attention” to Iran’s “optimal use” of its export oil money.
Given the strict US sanctions currently in place against the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in the best case scenario this clause means Iran “must” provide China with the required amount of crude oil for 25 years from the start of the implementation – and China will allow Iran to use its oil revenues in a way that China does not oppose.
From the Sky to the Sea: Chinese Inroads in Iranian Infrastructure and Airspace
The draft 25-year plan encourages China to participate in railway projects and highway construction as required by Iran. It also grants China extensive powers to operate in Iran’s civil engineering sector. One proposed example is in the construction of a national railway network between the east and west of Iran, which are currently not connected to each other. China would also be permitted to build a “pilgrimage” railway in Iran that connects Pakistan to Iraq and Syria via Iran. Talks on the projects related to this railway will also be discussed with China.
The document also entrusts the development of Iranian airports and the infrastructure of aircraft navigation technology and other requirements related to the aviation industry to China in the form of cooperation agreements.
China is also encouraged to invest in Iran’s oil and gas industry. In previous years China had taken over the development of some of Iran’s oil fields, but as sanctions tightened it has abandoned half of the projects or forced Iran to cancel its participation. In the 25-year document, China has no obligation to invest in oil fields but has the right to enter Iran’s oil and gas industry if it so wishes.
This part of the document implies that if China wants to invest in Iran’s energy sector it will have priority, and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran must consider special privileges for this country.
China Reaches the Waters of the Persian Gulf
The development of the Makran coastline in Sistan and Baluchestan province on the shores of the Oman Sea, which is the only ocean port in Iran, is entrusted to China. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic, has been urging Iranian officials to put the development of these ports on their agenda for some time.
According to the 25-year plan, China will be a key party in the development of the Jask coast in Hormozgan province. This includes participation in the construction of an industrial town, refineries, and industries related to petrochemicals, steel and aluminum. China also commits to back the construction of tourism centers, industrial centers and ports in the Makran region.
Iranian Internet and Telecoms Under Chinese Control
The Iran-China 25-year Comprehensive Partnership Document assigns to China the development of the fifth generation of mobile phones (5G) network in the country. It is also entrusted with providing an array of products and services such as the development of search engines, instant messaging platforms, email, anti-virus software, internet routers and GPS technology, mobile phones, tablets and laptops.
Many developed countries have withdrawn from Chinese state-backed companies such as Huawei for fear of the Chinese government’s interference in telecommunications and online activity. Concerns abound over and the possibility of the Chinese government exploiting the content of citizens’ conversations in sovereign juridsictions while gaining a monopoly on 5G and other internet services. But here, the Islamic Republic of Iran appears to be handing over control of most of the country’s telecoms and online industries to China.
Neither Iran and China has a good track record in internet freedom. Search engines, social networks and instant messaging in both countries are filtered because the government is unable to monitor or control all of the content exchanged. This document creates the political framework, authority and opportunity for Iran’s telecoms and internet to be further re-imagined, Chinese style.
The document explicitly states that the governments of Iran and China will cooperate with one another, and together within international organizations, in the field of “government sovereignty over cyberspace.”
What are the Advantages for Iran in This Document?
The 25-year plan suggests a number of financial and economic benefits to Iran, such as increased exportation of crude oil to China and the increased exports of Chinese petrochemical products to Iran. Iran would also has strategic advantages in the proposed establishment of Persian language teaching in Chinese universities, Iranian banks being granted permission open branches or agencies in China’s free trade zones, and the establishment of a joint Iranian-Chinese bank.
The plan is unprecedented in terms of the facilities and privileges that the Islamic Republic of Iran gives to a foreign country. The principles were agreed during a meeting in February 2016 between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic.
The Islamic Republic’s constitution requires that the Islamic Consultative Assembly – the Iranian parliament – give the final stamp of approval to such an agreement. But this is only the understanding on paper. Four years ago, though, Ayatollah Khamenei determined these plans were “correct and wise”: meaning that whatever the final version of the document now, in practice means MPs will have no choice but to ratify it.