Obstacles & Motives for China & Russia to Unify against Iran

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dr. Mehdi Sanaei

Active ImageA recent visit to China by the Russian President Medvedev is evidence to strategic importance of relations between Beijing and Moscow proving that the two countries, which were bitter rivals during the Cold War era, are now close allies.

Importance of bilateral relations between China and Russia can be viewed from three different standpoints. The volume of bilateral trade exchanges has greatly increased and that increase has been as much as 30 percent in the past few years. Russia considers China a strategic partner and a total of 120 billion dollars of trade exchanges attest to this fact. The two countries have also reached major agreements on energy sector during the abovementioned visit. They have finished wrangling over a pipeline which is to take Russian oil to China and finalized a contract to build a refinery in China. Russia has also agreed to sell 150 billion barrels of oil to China in the coming years. Since Russia is the biggest producer of oil and China is the biggest consumer of energy carriers in the region, both contracts on oil and energy are of high import. There have been proposals about transfer of the Russian gas to China which can lead to fundamental changes in energy exchanges in the whole region. As a result, both Russia’s dependence on oil exports to Europe and China’s reliance on importing oil from Iran will reduce. Such developments in energy sector are sure to drastically change energy equations in the whole region.

From a regional standpoint, collaboration between Moscow and Beijing is also very significant. The two countries share common grounds both due to their membership at Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and in terms of regional cooperation with neighboring countries which is manifested in border and security agreements as well as defense cooperation in the Central Asia and Eurasia.

At international level, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is gradually turning into an eastern version of NATO. In case of more eastern expansion of NATO, SCO will focus more on security matters and this will lead to establishment of a secret alliance between China and Russia to fight US unilateralism.

Moscow and Beijing, however, are facing challenges in all the aforesaid areas. As for bilateral relations, Medvedev noted that the two countries’ relations are marked with blood as a result of confrontations in the World War II. He also underlined strategic importance of those relations. Nonetheless, historical pessimism toward China has been institutionalized in Russia, especially in the eastern parts of Russia where population is sparse and is under heavy population threats from China.

From a regional viewpoint, rivalry over energy resources in the Central Asia and the Persian Gulf constitutes a major challenge. Therefore, there is a form of regional race between Russia and China as rival countries. Russia considers the Central Asia and Caucasus its backyard and border disputes still continue among China, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. All these factors challenge regional cooperation between Moscow and Beijing.

At international level, Russia’s approach to the west is somehow different from China’s and only a common threat may bring the two countries close. Otherwise, their viewpoints about collaboration with the European countries and the United States are different.

As for Iran, bilateral energy cooperation between China and Russia can have major impacts on Iran. China is a customer of the Iranian energy and Russia is Iran’s rival in energy exports. Although we maintain that no international power game is zero-sum and countries can follow different interests while still winning the game, it is incumbent on our foreign policy apparatus to scan ongoing challenges and take appropriate measures.

Iran’s active presence in regional organizations and adoption of a dynamic foreign policy approach to Russia and China can help Tehran not to lag behind in terms of regional cooperation.

Active ImageWhen it comes to Iran’s nuclear case, both Russia and China have resisted against the west and tried to placate pressures on Iran. In recent months, however, they have taken relatively different positions on the nuclear issue. Russia’s cooperation with Iran has been of a strategic quality in past years while China has focused more on trade and economic collaboration. Iran’s cooperation with Russia was more concentrated on military and strategic issues and, therefore, Russia was under greater pressures from the west. While Russia has relatively changed its foreign policy approach, China still sticks to the old policy. Therefore, it is possible for them to interact on Iran’s nuclear issue and the Islamic Republic of Iran should try to direct that interaction toward resisting anti-Iranian sanctions and pressures. We need to adopt an active and dynamic diplomatic approach to cooperation with China and Russia and create more opportunities for our foreign policy.

There are two common grounds for cooperation between China and Russia which include alleviating sanctions imposed on Iran by the west and opposing more powerful presence of the western countries in the region. Therefore, a weakened Iran will not benefit either China or Russia. On the other hand, both countries are wary about emergence of a nuclear Iran. Russia has increased interaction with the west and may try to get China attuned to its new policy with the ultimate result being a unified stance on Iran. Of course, such a stance will not be easy to achieve because China’s interests are more diverse and Beijing attaches great significance to trade and economic exchanges with Tehran.

Dr. Mehdi Sanaie is a member of the Iranian Parliament’s Foreign Policy Committee and head of the Iran and Eurasia Research Center (IRAS)

Source: Iranian Diplomacy
Translated By: Iran Review

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