Are Chinese friends less reliable?

China's new friends

The sheer dimensions of the agreement alone should sound the alarm bells in Washington: The new "strategic partnership" between Beijing and Tehran is set to run for 25 years, and China is to invest around 400 billion dollars in Iranian infrastructure over the same period. In return, Iran grants discounted access to oil. Cooperation in the military field is also planned. In order to avoid possible US sanctions, both sides also set up an Iranian-Chinese bank.

Beijing Foreign Minister Wang Yi is on a week-long tour of the Middle East until Tuesday. While his signing of the contract in Tehran generated particular media attention, all six state visits reflect the increasing importance that the People's Republic is attaching to the region. Whether Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Oman or Bahrain: China maintains good relations with all governments. This is all the more astonishing in view of Beijing's human rights violations against the Muslim minority in Xinjiang.

But economic interests have long outweighed them. After all, China is now the largest foreign investor in the region. Several countries are having the 5G network supplied by the telecommunications supplier Huawei and modernizing their ports and rail lines through China's “Belt and Road” initiative.

Beijing has also proven to be a reliable partner, especially during the corona pandemic: The People's Republic not only sent protective masks to the region, but is currently also delivering vaccination doses to both Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, which have been vaccinated per capita since then Population belong to the global top group.

For China, on the other hand, it is also about forging new alliances. With its long-term strategy, the People's Republic is in a fundamental transformation process, which primarily aims to be armed against possible US sanctions. Beijing is working on an alternative to the US dollar with its state digital currency, wants to become independent of US imports by building its own semiconductor industry and wants its People's Liberation Army to be on par with the armed forces of the United States over the next 15 years.

The now secured oil imports around the Persian Gulf are indispensable for the self-sufficiency vis-à-vis the West. In the past few months, Beijing's imports of black gold from Iran have risen to the highest level since the implementation of the US sanctions under Donald Trump. Due to the sanctions imposed in 2018, among other things, Iran is in an acute economic crisis that has been exacerbated by the corona pandemic.

At first glance, then, the impression may arise that a block that is antagonistic to the West is growing stronger under China's leadership. Because while the conflict between the two leading world powers China and the USA is leading to increasing alienation, Beijing is looking to join forces with Russia and Iran.

But that's not what China is about, says foreign policy expert Ruan Zongze, Vice Director of the China Institute for International Studies: With Wang Yi's visit to Tehran, the state leadership is signaling that a return to the nuclear deal between Iran and the United States under the new President Joe Biden is on the way hopes.

In fact, many Chinese investors are still holding back from being too open about their dealings with Iran. The fear of economic sanctions from Washington still weighs too much. A cautionary example was provided by Meng Wanzhou, daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, who was arrested in Canada for allegedly disregarding the unilaterally imposed sanctions in her adopted country of Canada.

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