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Analysis

China, Iran: New Defense Chapter

Saturday 14 September 2019
China, Iran:  New Defense Chapter

Alwaght- Chief of Staff of Iranian Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Hussein Baqeri arrived in China on Wednesday for a three-day visit at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart Major General Wu Jieming. Considering the two sides’ growing relations over the past years, it seems that the trip will mark a new chapter of security and defense cooperation between the two countries. 

Defense diplomacy 

This is the sixth trip of Major General Baqeri to the region and Asia since he took the position in 2017. As Beijing and Tehran embarked on the increasing level of military cooperation since the 1980s, Washington attempted since 2000 to curb it under various pretexts. It pushed for a UN resolution 1929 in 2010 to ban arms sales to Iran, nearly fully shutting down the Chinese-Iranian military cooperation. Until the nuclear deal of 2015, China had to regulate its security relations with Iran within the While House-drawn lines. Since Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal in May 2018, a change in Chinese vision took place. Beijing came to the notion that for strategic, political, and geopolitical reasons, Iran is one of the best choices for cooperation on security and guarantee of the energy flow in the Persian Gulf region. 

This shift was not hidden from the US. The US Naval Institute in a document published in 2015 said that China intends to secure its national interests in other parts of the world. The US National Security Agency in 2015 launched new efforts against the Iranian nuclear program and parts of the Chinese military. This is because of an understanding that Beijing finds its West Asia interests in defense cooperation with Iran as it seeks to not allow the Persian Gulf region fully become the US sphere of influence. Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of Chinese Joint Staff, visited Iran in 2015 to sign a defense MoU with Tehran. Shortly later, Chinese defense minister turned it into a military pact which covered cooperation in defense, training, intelligence, counterterrorism, and cyberspace sectors. Their ties also showed themselves in the defense diplomacy as in the same year two Chinese destroyers docked in Iran’s Bandar Abbas naval base for joint military drills with Iranian navy. 

A new chapter of cooperation 

Over time, the two countries have developed a strong will to promote military cooperation at a strategic and sustainable level. Major General Baqeri during the trip discussed security and defense with the Chinese military leaders. He held technical meetings on day one and visited industrial and scientific centers and addressed the scientific and military elites at the National Defense University in Beijing. 

Chinese military chief on the first day of Baqeri’s visit said that the trip marks a new level of Beijing-Tehran’s already advanced relations. In addition to meeting his counterpart, the Iranian military official met with Xu Qiliang, the vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission to discuss ways to deepen mutual defense cooperation. He also talked about holding joint technical, industrial, and military commissions, adding that the commissions will examine ways for training courses, military drills, and other military cases. 

Common security interests in the region 

Over the past years, the US tightened oil sanctions on Iran and Venezuela to curb China rise using energy tool. The insecurity in the Persian Gulf, on the other side, endangers China’s interests in two ways: The US, in addition to its anti-Chinese front in Oceania region opens a new front against China in the strategic Persian Gulf region. In this regard, it is so important to see what stance Iran takes to set up a balance. Instability in the Persian Gulf endangers the world’s most crucial energy supplying region. China seeks to boost its naval presence in the region using Iran window to avoid reliance on the US-led coalition. 

Beijing also supported Russia’s Persian Gulf collective security proposal, which Iran also shares. China Foreign Ministry’s Spokesman Hua Chunying at a press conference said that China supports Kremlin’s cooperation in the Persian Gulf for collective security. “We are ready to start joint efforts and contacts in this area,” he was quoted as saying. Iran-China’s security cooperation in more specific areas is also boosting. The National Interest website in a report said that China and Iran are engaged in “serious” air defense plans that can develop to bring down the US stealth fighters. 

In Syria, too, China’s security vision is close to those of Russia and Iran. Since 2014, China became aware of the Western coalition’s security and destabilizing risks and started to back Iranian and Russian pro-stability efforts in the Arab country. Last year, Beijing announced readiness to deploy military forces to Syria’s Idlib province, the last major stronghold of terrorists and home to militant fighters with Chinese origins. China’s special envoy to Syrian Crisis Xie Xiaoyan after a meeting with a UN official told the press: “At present, there is a risk of the revival of terrorist organizations like ISIS.” He added that the fight against terrorism should be completed. 

The Afghanistan war and ISIS transfer to the central Asian country, mainly in Badakhshan province that borders China, carry threats to China. That motivated China to check insecurity proliferation in Afghanistan via work with Iran, Pakistan, and Russia, that have geopolitical concerns in Afghanistan. 

On the other side, in addition to the US, NATO is attempting to expand to the Chinese borders. North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s chief Jens Stoltenberg in recent remarks said that the military organization should perceive the consequences of China’s power expansion across the world particularly in areas that can endanger NATO members’ security. The stance, the analysts suggest, comes as part of broader US interests. The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in April during a NATO foreign ministers meeting said that NATO tore down Iron Curtain and checked communism. Now it should be ready to counter risks from China, Russia, and Iran. 

The common interests in the region also laid the foundation for an agreement for joint Russian-Chinese-Iranian naval drills in the north Indian Ocean “in the near future.” So, as long as the transregional threats in West and East Asia exist, the joint defense campaigns of regional countries expand every day. 

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