Iran and China have signed a 25-year deal to expand their relationship as the Islamic Republic struggles to prove the resilience of its economy in the face of decades of US sanctions.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, and his visiting Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, signed the agreement on Saturday.
Details of the deal were not disclosed and it was not clear how much it could have changed from an 18-page draft – seen by the Financial Times last year – which did not say any strategic change in Iran’s foreign policy.
The project focused on cooperation in fields ranging from energy, petrochemicals and nuclear power to high-tech and military sectors as well as maritime projects aimed at promoting Iran’s role in the Initiative. the Belt and Road of China. It did not contain any information on China’s investments in Iran.
“This deal will certainly help expand ties with China and change the nature of doing business because Chinese companies will invest in Iran now with more confidence than before,” said a business executive close to radical forces in the country. Iran.
“Many lights in various sectors, including the energy sector, will go green for Chinese companies. It also shows the United States that Iran is no longer tied by the sanctions rope. “
China has benefited from growing trade with Iran since the early 1990s and has been Iran’s most important trading partner for the past decade, in part due to US sanctions, which have helped to end 30 years of Germany’s leading role.
China has become a lifeline for the Iranian economy despite cutting oil imports after Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal Tehran signed with major powers, including China.
Zarif, in a meeting with Wang, called China a “friend during difficult times” and thanked Beijing for its “actions and positions during unfair sanctions.”
Iranian markets have been kept supplied with Chinese goods, from machinery and parts to clothing, toys and stationery, despite the tightened sanctions that remain in place under the Biden administration.
A senior US official told the Financial Times this month that Iran’s oil exports to China have been increasing “for some time now” and that Washington has told Beijing it will apply the era’s sanctions. Trump.
In Iran’s last year, which ended on March 20, the country’s total trade figure was $ 73 billion, with China being the main partner, according to the customs administration.
Iran’s exports to China reached $ 8.9 billion, and imports from China amounted to $ 9.7 billion.
These figures do not include considerable volumes of Chinese products re-imported from other destinations.
But expanding activities to multibillion-dollar projects and the full implementation of any future deal with China will remain dependent on negotiations with the new US administration and the removal of sanctions, according to revenue figures.
Meanwhile, Iranian turnovers say China has not proven to be reliable in larger contracts and they fear history will repeat itself despite the new deal.
China National Petroleum Corporation signed a contract to develop the South Azadegan oil field in 2009 after the withdrawal of Inpex from Japan. Iran terminated the deal due to underperformance and suspected delays.
CNPC also signed multi-billion dollar contracts in the South Pars gas field after France’s Total withdrew under threat of US sanctions, but then abandoned the project. for the same reason.
Saturday’s deal dates back to President Xi Jinping’s visit to Iran in 2016, shortly after the nuclear deal was implemented. He met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who hailed the prospect of a 25-year partnership as “more cooperation between independent states”.
The Iranian people, however, criticized the prospect of a deal last year and took to social media to urge Hassan Rouhani’s government not to sign the deal which, for many, amounted to selling the country. The signing of the documents during the Persian New Year holiday and the refusal to release details could be intended to avoid public criticism, analysts said.
The Chinese Foreign Minister has been on a week-long regional tour since Wednesday. He has visited Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran, from where he will continue to the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain.