Comprehensive Cooperation Agreement Between China and Iran: Strategic Ramifications and Available Options

Mohamed Fayez Farahat | 10 May 2021

On 21 June 2020, the Iranian government announced its approval of the draft "comprehensive cooperation agreement" for a period of 25 years with China, as part of the "comprehensive strategic partnership" signed between them in March 2016. On 27 March 2021, the agreement was formally signed by the foreign ministers of the two countries.

The agreement sparked great controversy, ranging from the motives behind it, to the expected gains for its two parties, the potential repercussions that the agreement could have for the Middle East and the Arabian Gulf region, and the future of the agreement and its ability to hold in case of change in the current regional and international conditions.

There are several interests behind the decision by China and Iran to sign the agreement at this time. Some of those interests date back to before the signing of the agreement, but some other interests are related to the timing of the signing of the agreement. This raises important questions about the extent of the agreement’s ability to survive and continue in the event of a change in the current international and regional context. The future of the agreement is not merely related to the nature of the interests that stand behind it, but is also related to the nature of the agreement, or rather the way the two parties to the agreement view its real goals, and China's ability in particular to fulfill the promises related to the agreement to the Iranian side, as well as the nature of the future ruling elite in Iran and its position on assessing the gains and costs of the agreement.

To find out about all these dimensions, and more, this paper is divided into four sections. The first of them discusses the Chinese and Iranian interests that can explain the decision to sign the agreement at this time. The second section discusses the potential ramifications of the agreement. The third section discusses the future of the agreement. Finally, the fourth section discusses the options available to the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Chinese and Iranian interests in the agreement

An accurate understanding of the agreement requires identifying the nature of the existing interests between China and Iran. As mentioned earlier, some of those interests date back to before the signing of the agreement, while others are linked to the nature of the current international and regional scene. The most prominent interests of the two parties can be indicated as follows.

1. Chinese interests

 China has four basic interests in Iran, namely:

  1. Securing oil flows: while China relies on the GCC countries as important sources for those flows, a part of the strategy to secure Chinese energy requires diversifying those sources. This is not limited to the Middle East region, as China has tended to open new import markets, such as Russia, Central Asia, Myanmar and Africa. In addition to diversifying those sources and preserving their sustainability, China seeks to exploit the distressed oil countries to maximise its oil gains, which applies to the Iranian case. Perhaps what confirms the strong relationship between Chinese oil interests and the agreement is that pursuant to the agreement, China has obtained great facilities in this field, including the possibility of deferred payment, and payment in the Chinese national currency, in addition to the high discount rate on market prices, which was estimated at nearly 32 percent.
  2. Providing the appropriate environment for the success of the Belt and Road Initiative: the Initiative is receiving great attention from China, given several factors, including its association with the name of Chinese President Xi Jinping, and its transformation into an integrated strategy to address a number of internal economic problems, starting with the problem of unbalanced development, both between the eastern coastal regions and the central and western regions, and the rural and urban areas, and the problem of surplus productive capabilities due to the inability of the local market to accommodate those capabilities, which prompted economic and development policy planners to rebuild the sources of Chinese economic growth towards relying on foreign demand, by transferring this surplus to foreign markets and increasing the share of Chinese companies in the global foreign direct investment (FDI) market, and to export surplus financial savings abroad in the form of loans. Some countries are especially important along the Belt and Road tracks, including Pakistan (through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) and Iran (through the China-West Asia-Europe Economic Corridor). In this context, Iran has a relative weight for China within the framework of the Initiative, as it is an important transit area between China, Central Asia, and the European coasts on the Mediterranean. This means that Iran constitutes an important destination for Chinese investments, especially in the areas of infrastructure and sea ports.
  3. Opening new markets for arms exports: in the last two decades (2000-2020), the sources of arms for Iran were confined to five sources only, namely, Russia, China, Ukraine, North Korea and Belarus, given that the value of arms imports from those five countries during the said period amounted to 2,080 million, 781 million, 262 million, 257 million, and 53 million dollars, respectively, at a total amount of 3,433 million dollars.[1] While Iranian arms imports are still limited compared to most countries in the Middle East, they constitute a promising market, especially with the failure of the United States to pass its draft resolution within the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in August 2020 to renew the arms embargo imposed on Iran,[2] given that the suspension of the embargo has been in effect since mid-October 2020.[3] In a clear indication of its efforts to increase its share of the Iranian arms market, China (and Russia) stood firmly behind the abolition of this embargo, as it voted (with Russia) against the US draft resolution, while 11 countries abstained from voting, and only two countries, namely the United States and the Dominican Republic, supported it.[4] A competition is expected to take place between China and Russia over the Iranian arms market, especially in the light of Iran's previous efforts to acquire the Russian Su-30 and Yak-130 aircraft, T-90 tanks and S-400 air defence system. However, it was not able to acquire them due to the embargo, which was also linked to the signing of the nuclear agreement in 2015. Another important indicator of China's ambition to access the Iranian arms market is the approval by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (Parliament), on 17 October 2020, of the Export Control Law. The law came into effect on 1 December 2020. While the bill dates back to 2017, the acceleration of its adoption in conjunction with the cessation of the embargo imposed on Iran has important implications, because while the law aims to put comprehensive controls on Chinese arms exports abroad, namely identifying the lists of arms exports that are subject to the law, military products, nuclear materials and other goods, technologies and services of a military nature, dual-use materials, and imposing sanctions on Chinese companies that may violate the law, a careful reading of the law indicates that it constitutes a Chinese message to the United States and the international community that China has comprehensive and specific laws and standards to regulate arms exports, as opposed to what is rumoured about its focus on countries that undermine regional and global security.[5]
  4. Balancing US influence: in addition to the above three interests, it cannot be ruled out that China seeks to use its relations with Iran to balance Iranian influence in the Middle East region. In this context, Iran constitutes an important card for factors related to the nature of Iranian-US relations, the nature of the Arabian Gulf region as a traditional area of US ​​influence, as well as the importance of the region for China as a source of a significant proportion of its oil imports. The importance of Iran is even greater in view of its possession of a number of ports overlooking the Arabian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz and the water bodies associated with the Indian Ocean, which are of strategic importance for international trade.

However, despite the importance of this goal, it is not a top priority for China, and is subordinate to the previous three interests. Indeed, the degree of its priority is related to the course of the Sino-US relations in the period ahead.

2. Iranian interests

There are three basic Iranian interests with China, namely:

  1. Addressing the economic crisis: addressing the repercussions of the stifling economic crisis afflicting the Iranian economy due to the US sanctions is one of the basic interests of the Iranian regime with China, especially after Iran's failure to ensure the continuation of European investments, and the ineffectiveness of the European mechanisms to overcome those sanctions, especially the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX).[6] China becomes more attractive in this context, given its huge financial savings, Iran’s important location on the Belt and Road path, which constitutes an important Iranian card to attract Chinese investments, especially in the area of infrastructure, and Iran’s important relative weight in the oil market, in addition to the deteriorating relationship with the United States that brings the two sides together, providing an opportunity to formulate a common discourse between them.
  2. Balancing US pressure: the importance of this factor has recently increased, against the background of the deterioration in Iranian-US relations following the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement in May 2018, and the subsequent resort by the US to the policy of exercising "maximum pressure" on Iran with the aim of forcing it to accept negotiation on an amended version of the nuclear agreement in accordance with US conditions that ensure that Iran does not turn into a nuclear power, and end the time limit of the agreement, in addition to rethinking Iran's policy in the region and Iran's missile capabilities.[7]
  3. Access to Chinese arms exports: as mentioned earlier, the volume of Iranian demand for weapons is expected to increase. While the statistics of Iranian arms imports during the last two decades indicate that Russia is the first source of those imports, China is the second source immediately after Russia.

Likely repercussions

An assessment of the possible strategic implications of the agreement requires starting from the assumption that it is an agreement of a strategic nature, has the ability to survive and continue, and is implementable by its two parties. The importance of emphasising this assumption comes in the light of another viewpoint on the nature of the agreement and the opportunities for its implementation, which will be discussed later.

Based on the above assumption, an elaboration of the most important potential implications of the agreement is given below.

1. The complexity of returning to the nuclear deal

One of the potential implications of the agreement is the complexity of returning to the nuclear deal. This is because the agreement creates a new strategic situation for Iran, and contains a clear message to the US – and the European powers – that Iran not only has a strong supporter, but also has – in the language of the Cold War phase – a strategic alternative, and room for movement away from the US sphere. The question here is not related to Iran's position on the agreement; also to be taken into account is the position of China and Russia which support the return to the nuclear agreement according to a vision closer to the Iranian vision than to that of the US. In the final analysis, this means that Iran would sit at the negotiating table backed by two important powers out of the five signatories. This analysis is supported by the timing of the signing of the agreement, which came after the Biden administration's arrival and before Iran's return to any potential negotiations on the nuclear deal. In addition, Iran has announced the start of uranium enrichment at 60 percent.[8] There are several factors behind this important Iranian step, but the political support provided by the recent agreement with China cannot be excluded.

However, it cannot be ruled out that this agreement would play a role in speeding up and facilitating the anticipated US-Iranian negotiations on the nuclear deal, based on the possible development of a conviction by the US decision-maker that it was the tightening of the screws on Iran that led to the acceleration of its rapprochement with China. According to this conviction, if it does develop, this means that containing Iran and easing the conditions for returning to the nuclear agreement have become necessary to distance Iran from China, and reduce China's influence and weaken its ability to build alliances in the region.[9] There are some indications of an ease in the US position regarding the terms of the procedures for returning to the agreement.[10]

2. Establishing the policy of international and regional axes in the Middle East

One of the main concerns raised by the agreement is the launch of the axes policy in the region. After the end of the Cold War, the region witnessed the formation of some axes, but they remained of a regional nature in the light of the lack of clarity in the international polarisation in the region due to the weak Russian and Chinese presence for a long time. However, the Syrian crisis, especially after the Russian military intervention alongside the Syrian regime, opened the way for the emergence of "regional axes" with international dimensions against the background of this crisis. The Chinese-Iranian agreement may perpetuate this trend by introducing China into this path. Although China was not far from the region during the previous decades, its presence remained mainly economic. The agreement may constitute a major turning point in the nature of Chinese policy and the nature of the Chinese presence in the region. Thus, in the light of this agreement and of a strong Russian presence in the region through the direct military presence in Syria, in addition to the project of the Russian naval military base in Sudan,[11] and in the light of the "confrontational" path between the United States and both Russia and China, the region has become at the threshold of a "new strategic landscape".

In this context, the formation of a "Russian-Chinese-Iranian" axis could be conceived. It should be noted in this regard that the announcement of the China-Iran agreement coincided with talk about renewing the agreement signed between Iran and Russia in March 2001, which included Russian-Iranian cooperation in the fields of oil and arms sales for a period of twenty years.[12] Pakistan’s rapprochement with this axis can also be expected, given the background of Sino-Pakistani relations, in general, and the role that China allocates to both Pakistan and Iran on the Belt and Road track.

These developments may prompt the emergence of a "US-Gulf-Israeli" axis. The chances for the formation of this axis increase in the event that the US-Chinese polarisation increases and the US-Iranian crisis is not resolved. The US and Israel are expected to play a major role in advancing the formation of this "axis".[13]

Some writings suggest the possibility of including India in this "axis", but this analysis does not take into account a number of important considerations. First, the growing Indo-Russian relations, which constitute one of the important factors in Indian foreign policy, especially since Russia is the primary source of Indian armaments. Second, the tension in Indo-US relations over the Indian S-400 deal with Russia. Third, the strong Indian-Iranian relations which include important fields, including Indian investments in the Iranian port of Chabahar, and the "North-South Axis" project, which links the Indian port of Mumbai with Central Asian countries via Iran.[14] India is not expected to sacrifice its strong interests with Russia or with Iran. Besides, India adopts an independent approach in its foreign policy in general, and endeavours to emphasise the state of multilateralism in its foreign relations in particular, and at the level of the international system in general. Hence, going forward, India is expected to tend to expand its relations with the GCC countries in conjunction with its relations with Iran.

The future of the agreement: different scenarios

Despite the importance of the agreement and what it represents in terms of a possible shift in Sino-Iranian relations, it is not possible to determine with certainty the specific future of the agreement, and hence its strategic implications. While many writings have defended the strategic nature of the agreement, and the huge turning point it constitutes in the nature of Chinese policies in the Middle East, another important trend defends the need not to overestimate the agreement, and thus favours the conclusion that the agreement is primarily driven by Chinese economic and commercial motives and interests, Iranian interests related to US sanctions, the requirements for managing the pre-return period to the nuclear agreement, and the conditions for this return.

Below is a discussion of the two views above.

First scenario: a long-term strategic agreement

The view that the Sino-Iranian agreement is an agreement of a long-term strategic nature that establishes a qualitative shift in the nature of China’s policy in the Middle East towards asserting its global role, and that it may initiate alliances and rules for a new game in the Middle East and the Gulf region, is based on a number of arguments:

First, the general context of signing the agreement, especially in relation to the nature of the present stage of the Sino-US relations which proceed along a confrontational path, especially since mid-2018. That path is no longer limited to traditional issues (the value of the Chinese national currency, the South China Sea, human rights). It has come to include a large list of new issues in addition to those traditional issues, such as the tariff war, Hong Kong, Taiwan, fifth-generation technology, the balance of power and influence within the Indo-Pacific region, and US alliances in Asia, etc.).

The Second is related to the need to link this agreement, and the Chinese concessions it contains in the field of Iranian sea ports, with the Chinese tendency to access the largest possible number of ports connected to the Pacific and Indian oceans, in the context of what has become known in many US writings as the "strings of pearls" theory, both through obtaining military concessions inside those ports, and through economic and commercial concessions. In some cases, it also included developing the infrastructure of those ports. The term of the Chinese concession contracts in those ports ranged between 10 and 99 years.[15] In this sense, China's access to Iranian ports has become an important link in this Chinese strategy.

The third is related to deepening the military relations between the two sides as a likely result of the agreement, with the relevant implications for the balance of power and the rules of the game in the region. According to one report, the agreement includes secret provisions that allow the deployment of Chinese military bombers and equipment near Hamadan, Bandar Abbas, Chabahar and Abadan airports, such as the long-range Tupolev Tu-22M3, a modified Chinese version of the Russian model, in addition to the right of Chinese warships to use the main Iranian ports of Chabahar, Bandar Bushehr and Bandar Abbas.[16]

Second scenario: an agreement of an economic nature that may be subject to freezing

Contrary to the assumptions that have been put forward regarding the strategic implications of the agreement, there is another trend that sees the agreement as an economic agreement in essence. Indeed, a scenario whereby it is turned into hot air cannot be ruled out without any significant repercussions. This trend is supported by a number of grounds.

First, the Chinese promises regarding the planned investments, which are estimated at nearly 400 billion dollars over 25 years, that is, an average of 16 billion dollars annually, are not expected to be fulfilled. There are many factors that may prevent the flow of this huge amount of Chinese investment as long as the US sanctions on Iran continue. While it is true that Chinese companies in various sectors work in coordination with the government, and that some of them face the problem of surplus productive capacities within the Chinese market, they cannot – at the same time – ignore the economic and political costs of investment decisions in Iran, especially in case of the intensification of the Sino-US conflict and the continuation of decisions regarding the US sanctions imposed on Chinese economic entities. The experience of Chinese investments in Iran during the years following the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement in May 2018 indicates the inability of Chinese companies to ignore those sanctions. After this withdrawal and the resumption of sanctions, those companies tended either to freeze their investments or exit Iran. The matter was not limited to investments. The resumption of sanctions was followed by a significant decline in the volume of Chinese imports of Iranian oil.[17]

Even if the current impact of the US sanctions factor is excluded, Chinese investments in Iran are limited, as they have averaged 1.8 billion dollars annually since 2005. Thus, it is difficult for this amount to suddenly jump to 16 billion dollars annually on average during the coming two and half decades. It should also be noted that the leaked version of the agreement did not include any references to the size of the planned Chinese investments in Iran.[18]

Under the best scenario, the cost of Chinese investments in Iran under the US sanctions would be significant. China is expected to obtain huge concessions in return for the flow of those investments, given Iran's weak negotiating position (very limited alternatives to foreign investment sources) as opposed to the wide opportunities for external investment for Chinese companies. For example, several sources indicate that China will obtain – under the agreement – Iranian oil by up to 32 percent less than the market price. This provides an example of the Iranian economic costs of the influx of Chinese investments.[19] Even with regard to the political aspects of the agreement, it is difficult for either party to the agreement to help the other in facing its main problem, which is the relationship with the United States.

Second, it is difficult for China to sacrifice its relations with the GCC countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The experience of the Iranian-US crisis has proven that the GCC countries remain the best and most reliable alternative in the light of this type of oil crisis. The crisis was followed by a significant decline in the volume of Chinese imports of Iranian oil as opposed to an increase in those imports from Saudi Arabia and Iraq. This lesson will certainly remain an important determinant of Chinese policy towards the region in the future. Linked to this is China's realisation that its basic interests in the region, namely chiefly ensuring the flow of oil and the success of the Belt and Road, depend on the stability of the region. Despite Iran’s important weight on the path of the Belt and Road Initiative, the position of the GCC countries is no less important, especially in the light of the integration of the GCC countries in the Initiative.

The GCC countries are not the only important determinant of the possible paths of China’s relations with Iran following the agreement; another determinant is Israel. The importance of Chinese interests with Israel cannot be underestimated. Israel in turn pays great attention to the issue of the Iranian nuclear programme and the implications of the China-Iran agreement. Foremost among Chinese interests in Israel are technology cooperation and the growing Chinese investments in Israel. According to Israeli estimates, the technology sector accounts for the largest share of Chinese investments in Israel, reaching 9.138 billion dollars during the period 2002-2020, out of a total of 19.444 billion dollars.[20]

The agreement has caused a controversy inside Israel, in terms of its impact on improving the Iranian negotiating position with regard to the nuclear agreement, its impact on Iran's weight within the region, and the possibilities of developing Chinese-Iranian military cooperation and the possibility that China could provide Iran with advanced naval missile technology or complete missile systems that may endanger Israel. Overall, however, Israeli estimates as well still tend to suggest that the agreement would not constitute a major change in the power equations in the Middle East.[21]

Third, important precedents exist confirming that China is not ready to fight battles with the United States on behalf of regional powers, or to pay economic and political costs to save such countries from their external and internal crises. The most prominent example here is the case of Venezuela, which is very similar to the case of Iran (an oil-producing country with hostile tendencies towards the United States, and suffering from internal problems). Comparison could even be drawn with Sino-Iranian agreements in earlier stages. In January 2016, during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Iran (six months after the signing of the nuclear agreement, being the first visit by a Chinese president to Iran in 14 years), relations between the two countries were upgraded to the level of "comprehensive strategic partnership", 17 agreements were signed, and an agreement was reached on increasing the volume of trade relations to reach 600 billion dollars.[22] Nevertheless, most of those agreements remained hot air, and commercial relations did not achieve this "ambitious" jump.

As for the timing of the signing of the agreement, it can be said here that it is related to the traditional Chinese approach, which is based on exploiting the political weaknesses and external crises that some countries go through at specific stages with the aim of obtaining the largest possible long-term economic gains, more than being related to the current Chinese-US conflict.

Fourth, a trend exists inside Iran that continues to reject the agreement, and believes that it includes huge concessions for China that are not commensurate with the expected Iranian gains, to the point of undermining Iranian sovereignty, especially in the light of the Iranian government’s failure to announce the content of the agreement and its refusal to present it to the Iranian parliament. The trend opposing the agreement underlines that short-term interests can pave the way for long-term conditions.

Fifth, the future of the agreement, and the Sino-Iranian relations in general, are related to the future of the relations of the two parties to the agreement with the United States. Assuming the success of the United States and Iran in returning to the nuclear agreement, this development would undoubtedly have its repercussions on the course of the Sino-Iranian relations. Indeed, those relations may be part of US-Iranian understandings. Similarly, assuming an improvement in US-China relations and the success of the two parties in reaching understandings on the issues in question, there is also no doubt that this development would have its repercussions on the course of Sino-Iranian relations. At least, China may find no need to build costly alliances.

Sixth, it is necessary to put the "comprehensive strategic partnership" agreement signed between the two countries in March 2016, which established the recent China-Iran agreement, within the general context of Chinese diplomacy. One of the main features of Chinese diplomacy is to avoid entering into security alliances, and rely instead on various formulas for strategic partnerships. In this context, China relies on three levels of partnerships: regular partnerships, strategic partnerships, and comprehensive strategic partnerships. While it is true that the partnership with Iran belongs to the third level, which is the highest and includes military cooperation, it must be taken into account that China has comprehensive strategic partnerships with more than 30 countries in the world without turning into an alliance relationship in the political and security sense (including several countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt).[23]

Finally, a number of additional indicators can be pointed out to demonstrate that China does not classify the agreement within "strategic security" agreements. Among those indicators is China's keenness to ignore the agreement and refrain from announcing it until its official signing. The draft agreement was first announced by the Iranian government in June 2020.[24] The second important indicator is the signing of the agreement at the level of foreign ministers. An agreement of this size would be expected to be signed by the presidents of the two countries. This indicates – perhaps – China's desire not to raise the ceiling of international expectations regarding the agreement.

In general, and in view of the multiplicity of views on the nature of the agreement and its possible repercussions, it can be said that the future of the agreement will remain dependent on a number of variables, the most important of which being the future of the relations of the two parties to the agreement with the United States. The improvement of those relations or their tendency towards further deterioration would have its effects on the future of the agreement and the course of Sino-Iranian relations.

The options available to the GCC countries

The options available to the GCC countries to deal with the Sino-Iranian agreement and its possible repercussions depend on the nature of the agreement in the light of the two above views, the path that the Sino-Iranian relations can take during the next stage, and finally the timeframe for building those options.

In general, a distinction can be made between options proposed for the short term and those proposed for the longer term.

1. In the short term

In the short term, it is suggested that the GCC states focus on the following axes:

a. Refraining from introducing any changes to the nature of the GCC countries' policies towards China, at the political or economic level. On the contrary, it would be better in this context to continue to deepen strategic partnerships with China, including continued integration into the Belt and Road, in addition to continuing dialogue with China regarding its role in the region, the implications that the maximisation of Iran's role could entail for regional stability, in addition to the trends of Chinese arms sales in the region and their impact on regional security.

b. Avoiding engaging in any projects for new alliances in the region on the grounds of containing China in the region or as a reaction to the Sino-Iranian agreement, without allowing this to result in curtailing the relations of the GCC states with the countries affected by the repercussions of the agreement on their interests or the countries rejecting the agreement or concerned about it (India, Israel and Pakistan).

c. Maintaining political and security relations with the United States at their current level.

The previous proposals are based on a number of arguments, the most prominent of which being the lack of clarity on the final nature of the agreement and the uncertainty about its potential strategic implications on the one hand. On the other hand, early negative dealings with the agreement may constitute a factor in pushing the Sino-Iranian relations in a negative direction, and may push the relations between the GCC states and China towards a zero-sum game formula, which is undesirable.

2. In the medium term

 The proposed policies in the medium term depend on the extent to which the nature of the agreement becomes clear and the course that the Sino-Iranian relations would take based on this agreement and the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement signed in 2016. In this context, three scenarios can be envisioned.

First scenario: the agreement is frozen or not implemented, for reasons related to the continuation of the US sanctions on Iran or the settlement by either China or Iran, or both, of its crises with the United States. In this case, either or both of them would be expected to review the agreement, especially in the event that any discussions or settlements are included in this file between either of them and the United States.

Second scenario: the domination of the economic and commercial nature of the agreement, including the strengthening of trade and investment relations between the two sides, without much change in the nature of the security relations. In the event that either of these two alternatives develop, it would be preferable for the GCC countries to follow the same policy proposed for the short term.

Third scenario: the agreement leads to the consolidation of security and military relations between China and Iran, with the latter becoming a Chinese focal point in the region in the face of US influence and its existing alliances in the region. In this case, the GCC countries will have to take strategic decisions regarding their relations with China, and regarding the expected new alliances in the region, given that it may become necessary to enter into a network of balancing alliances according to the extent reached by the Sino-Iranian relations.


[1] SIPRI Database, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

[2] For more details on this embargo, refer to the relevant Security Council resolutions issued during the period from 2006 to 2010: 

-UN Security Council, Resolution 1737 (2006), 27 December 2006.

-UN Security Council, Resolution 1747 (2007), 24 March 2007.

-UN Security Council, Resolution 1929 (2010), 9 June 2020.

-UN Security Council, Resolution 2231 (2015), 20 July 2015.

[3] Jennifer Hansler and Richard Roth, “UN Security Council rejects US proposal to extend Iran arms embargo”, CNN, August 14, 2020.

[4] For more details on the prospects for the arms trade and military relations between China, Russia and Iran after the arms embargo against Iran was lifted, see: Agnes Helou, “Who will sell Iran weapons now that the arms embargo is dead?”, November 16, 2020.

[5] For example, the law stipulates the commitment by Chinese arms exporting companies to provide certificates about the end users and the final uses of the weapons. It commits the end users not to change the end use of the product or transfer the product to any third party without permission from the Export Control Authority. In addition, the law requires the exporter to inform the relevant government authority immediately upon discovery of the change of the end user of the weapons or of the change in the nature of the end use. Under the law, the Export Control Authority may also conduct the assessment and verify the end-users and the nature of the end use of the controlled items. The law authorises the Arms Export Control Authority to draw up a negative list of importers and end-users who (1) violate the end-user requirement or the nature of end-use; (2) endanger national security and interests; or (3) use those exports for terrorism. The law has established, inter alia, a set of procedures to deal with these cases. For more details, see: “China Enacted the Export Control Law” JD SUPRA, February 25, 2021. Available at:

[6] A financial mechanism established by Germany, France and the UK in January 2019 to facilitate financial transactions with Iran in the light of the US sanctions imposed on it following the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement in May 2018. The mechanism provided a channel for small and medium companies to maintain their financial transactions with Iran, both through the system of barter for goods and payments, and through conducting commercial transactions in currencies other than the dollar. However, the mechanism encountered numerous problems. For more information on Iran's dissatisfaction with this mechanism and its ineffectiveness, see: Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), “INSTEX and damaged European prestige”, 6 March 2021.; Iran’s Ambassador to UN Says INSTEX Mechanism Failed to Meet Its Goal Over Past Two Years”, SPUTNIK, 21 Dec. 2020.

[7] For more details on the reasons for the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran, see: Anak Agung, Banyu Perwita & Muhammad Ilham Razak, “U.S. Foreign Policy Towards Iranian Nuclear Threat from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump Administration”, Insignia Journal of International Relations, Vol. 7, No.1, April 2020, pp. 34-36.

[8] “Iran starts enriching uranium to 60%”, Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, 16 April 2021.

[9] Shireen Hunter, “The Iran-China agreement: Inconsequential or a game changer?”, Responsible Statecraft, APRIL 5, 2021.

[10] See, for example: “America proposed very serious ideas to Iran regarding the nuclear deal”, Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, 10 April 2021.

[11] The agreement signed between Russia and Sudan in November 2020 in this regard provides for Sudan's approval of the establishment of a Russian naval facility near the port of Port Sudan, capable of receiving nuclear-powered warships, in addition to accommodating up to 300 Russian military and civilian personnel. The facility would also be allowed to receive four warships simultaneously. The term of the agreement is 25 years, which can be extended for an additional 10 years with the consent of both parties.

[12] Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), “FM Zarif: Renewing Iran's 20-year agreement with Russia on agenda”, Jul 21, 2020.

- “Iran, Russia to Ink Comprehensive Cooperation Deal”, Tasnim News Agency, April, 12, 2021. Available at:; Tom O’connor, “Iran Seeks Deals with Russia and China To Build Coalition to Resist U.S.”, Newsweek, 22 July 2020.

[13] For more details on the agreement’s implications for Israel, see: Amal Shehadeh, “Israeli concern after the Sino-Iranian agreement: Tehran circumvents sanctions with Beijing's help”. Al-Majalla magazine, 4 April 2021. Available at:

[14] For more details on this project, see: Shankar Shinde, “International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC Conference)”, Mumbai, 28th February 2017. Available at:  

[15] For more details, see: Richard Chiasy, FEI SU & Lora Saalman, “The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Security Implications and Ways forward for the European Union”, SIPRI & Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Stockholm, June 2018, p. 6. Available at:; Brewster, D., “Silk Roads and strings of pearls: The strategic geography of China’s new pathways in the Indian Ocean”, Geopolitics, vol. 22, no. 2, 30 Aug. 2016, pp. 271–72.

[16] Simon Watkins, “China Inks Military Deal with Iran under Secretive 25-Year Plan”, Oil Price, July 06, 2020.

[17] Amos Yadlin and Ari Heistein, “The Prospects of A China-Iran Axis”, Commentary, War on the Rocks, August 10, 2020. Available at:

[19] Amos Yadlin and Ari Heistein, “The Prospects of A China-Iran Axis”, op., cit; Simon Watkins, “China Inks Military Deal with Iran under Secretive 25-Year Plan”, op., cit.

[20] Doron Ella, “Chinese Investments in Israel: Developments and a Look to the Future”, The Institute for National Security Studies, Special Publication, Tel Aviv, February 1, 2021. Available at:

[21] See, for example: Sima Shine, Eyal Propper, and Bat Chen Feldman, “Iran and China: On the Way to a Long-Term Strategic Agreement?”, INSS Insight, No. 1352, July 23, 2020. Available at:; Tuvia Gering & Dr. Yossi Mansharof, "The China-Iran Agreement is not a Strategic Shift", The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, 24 August 2020. Available at:

[22] For more details, see: “Full text of Joint Statement on Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between I.R. Iran, P.R. China”. Available at:; Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), ”Iran, China sign 17 cooperation agreements”, Jan 23, 2016. Available at:; “Iran and China agree closer ties after sanctions ease”, BBC, 23 January 2016. Available at:

[23] See: Jonathan Fulton, "China Changing Role in the Middle East", Atlantic Council, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, June 2019. Available at:; Mohammad Pervez Bilgrami, "Implications of the Iran-China Deal on India", Opinion, Center for Iranian Studies in Ankara (IRAM), 07.09.2020.

[24] See the statements of the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman in response to a question about the leakage of the draft agreement by the New York Times newspaper: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The People’s Republic of China, “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying's Regular Press Conference on July 13, 2020”. Available at


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