Analysis: Iran-China relations, military cooperation outlook

Analysis: Iran-China relations, military cooperation outlook

The April 27 visit of the Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe to Iran drew considerable reactions from various media outlets and strategic and military studies circles. During the talks with the Iranian officials, the point of focus was upgrading the scientific and military partnership.

AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): The April 27 visit of the Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe to Iran drew considerable reactions from various media outlets and strategic and military studies circles. During the talks with the Iranian officials, the point of focus was upgrading the scientific and military partnership. 

Fenghe's visit was the second to Iran by a Chinese defense minister in recent years. Relations between China and Iran, as two important regional powers, in addition to importance at domestic level countries, have also been extremely important for analysts and political leaders of Western countries. China has one of the largest armies in the world and is globally recognized as one of the US's main strategic competitors. Iran, with a long history of opposition to the US in West Asia, and as one of the major regional powers, has a good basis for expanding military and security cooperation with China. 

Grounds for China-Iran military cooperation expansion 

Relations between Iran and China have a long history, but since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, ties between the two sides in the economic, defense and geostrategic areas have grown sharply. The face of Beijing's military cooperation with Tehran was the shipment of weapons during Iraq's eight-year war against Iran in the 1980s. Their cooperation after war continued to grow. 

Undoubtedly, issues such as China's need for Iran's oil and gas, economic and technological cooperation between the two sides, and Iran's desire to increase its defense capabilities and strengthen them have played an important role in facilitating relations between the two countries. But beyond these technical issues, the two countries' competition with the West and their efforts to strike a strategic balance with it have played a major role in the two sides' tendency to expand bilateral cooperation in recent years. 

In general, Iran and China are two powers with a strong determination to counter the US global hegemony. They have held three big naval drills since 2019 jointly with Russia. More drills were reportedly agreed during the Chinese defense minister's visit to Tehran, with their key aim being maintaining the regional stability and bolstering military cooperation. 

After the withdrawal of the American occupation forces from Afghanistan in 2021, the China-Iran tendency to increase defense and security cooperation has also significantly increased. After all, Tehran and Beijing believe that the absence of the US in their vicinity would mean greater security and stability. In the new situation, the issue of Afghanistan is also an area for closer positions of the two sides on a regional issue. In fact, the two actors believe that they should work together to address security threats in Central Asia. 

In addition to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the growing interest of Iran and China in expanding defense and security cooperation comes as the two countries have taken relatively close positions in connection with the launch of Russian military operation in Ukraine, with both countries blaming NATO's eastward creeping as the main factor provoking the Russian campaign. 

Another area pushing Beijing and Tehran to military cooperation is Persian Gulf region. In China's viewpoint, the widespread American presence in the Persian Gulf is a threat to energy flow security and restrictive to the relations with the Arab monarchies in military and economic terms and a source of pressure on China in case of a conflict with Washington in the Pacific Ocean. Iran, on the other hand, finds the US naval and ground bases in the Persian Gulf a direct threat to its national security. These common concerns give the two countries more than a reason to push for containing the US in the Persian Gulf region. Driven by this policy, in recent decades China considerably contributed to empowering Iran's navy. 

Iran-China military and technology cooperation boom  

Given the grounds facilitating the relations between the two countries in military and defense sectors, Tehran and Beijing at least in the past two decades witnessed a remarkable boom in their partnership. In the new millennium, China become the second largest arms exporter and first military technology supplier to Iran. Here are the most important areas of military supply to Iran. 

- Transfer of military technology and sales of various types of missiles, fighter jets, patrol and missile frigates, and advanced mines

- Helping with developing surface-to-air, air-to-surface, and anti-ship missiles, production of fighter jets, radar systems, and missile cruisers

- Technology transfer for various rockets and their guidance systems

- Provision of special alloys and some computer systems and parts for missiles and other weapons

- Training Iranian personnel on use of advanced weapons 

- Provision of help on precision of ballistic missile systems and their propelling mechanism using solid fuel 

Military cooperation outlook 

The global developments in recent years have increased the confrontation between the US and the Eastern powers, including China, Russia, and Iran, to the highest levels since the Cold War. Ukraine war even deepened this polarization. Meanwhile, Iran, amid Ukraine crisis and nuclear talks deadlock, is seeking to send a message to the West, telling them that by boosting the military cooperation and activating the 25-year strategic agreement with China it does not tie its national interests to the others' demands and will. Rather, it follows an independent path in cooperation with other regional and international powers. 

On the other side, China, which is seeing tensions with the US over Taiwan escalating and finds the American "pivot to East" policy threatening to its national security, is eagerly seeking to upgrade the cooperation with its strategic allies. In the eyes of Chinese strategists and policy makers, the best choice at present is entry to security, military, and defense alliance with Russia and Iran. 

Moreover, Washington is seeking energy flow assurances to counter the American sanctions. To this end, the most suitable and reliable choice, like in the past decades, is Iran. Therefore, the outlook for their cooperation is clear and advancing.


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