How to contain the growing ties between Iran and China

Estudantes iranianos observam mísseis em exibição em mesquita em Teerã pela ocasião do segundo aniversário do ataque contra uma base americana no Iraque, após o assassinato de Qasem Soleimani, 7 de janeiro.

Iranian students look at missiles on display at a mosque in Tehran on the occasion of the second anniversary of the attack on a US base in Iraq following the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, January 7.| Photo: EFE/EPA/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH

The theocratic dictatorship of the Iran, caught in a confrontation with the United States, is being pulled into China’s orbit. The Iran-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership agreement signed in Tehran last March and Iran’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in September underscore the expansion of political, economic and strategic ties between the two regimes.

These evolving ties have strengthened Iran’s ability to resist sanctions, eased its isolation, and helped country’s actions to achieve regional hegemony.

But Iran needs the China needs Iran more than China needs. Washington should exploit this asymmetry by increasing the costs for Beijing of closer ties with Iran, reducing its economic benefits and constraining the potential benefits to Tehran of closer ties with China.

The Biden administration should closely monitor Sino-Iranian ties and work with the allies of the United States to mitigate the dangers of this geopolitical alignment. Close cooperation with allies is necessary to increase US influence over China and Iran and help constrain, if not prevent, a full Sino-Iranian alliance. Specifically, the United States must:

Escalate sanctions on Iran. By recklessly rejecting the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” sanctions strategy, the Biden administration relaxed the application of many sanctions. This complacent and self-destructive policy has reduced US diplomatic influence over Iran.

)This, in turn, diminished the prospects of a satisfactory outcome in the nuclear negotiations, encouraged an increase in illicit Iranian oil exports to China, and lowered the barriers to further Sino-Iranian cooperation.

A return to the policy of “maximum pressure” sanctions would not only increase the prospects of a satisfactory nuclear deal with Tehran, but it would diminish the perceived benefits to China of trade with Iran, reducing Iran’s ability to pay for Chinese imports and increasing the chances that the current Iranian regime will be overthrown by the long-suffering Iranian people.

Increased sanctions would also undermine Tehran’s ability to finance its military development and finance its network of militias and terrorist groups.

Pressuring China to minimize its support for the regime harmful of Iran2022. Washington should emphasize that unless Beijing encourages Tehran to give up its nuclear program and end attacks by allied groups, Iran is likely to continue on its current collision course with the US and its allies. This could undermine Chinese economic interests in the region and disrupt the regional oil exports on which Beijing depends.

Enforce sanctions on Chinese imports of Iranian oil . After the election of President Joe Biden, China increased its imports of Iranian oil. The US government may wrongly view its failure to enforce sanctions against these illicit imports as a tacit gesture of goodwill towards both Tehran and Beijing, but goodwill counts for little to these regimes.

Washington must apply new sanctions against Chinese shipping networks and companies that facilitate this oil trade. China’s economic future depends much more on stable economic relations with the United States than on its much smaller trade with Iran.

Working with allies to undermine Chinese support for Iran. The Biden administration must increase the costs and risks for Beijing of having closer ties with Tehran, not only in terms of Sino-US relations, but also in terms of China’s relations with other states threatened by Iran.

Chief among them are the Gulf Arab States and Israel, whose mutual concerns over Iran were a contributing factor in the formation of the Abraham Accords. China currently has a much greater economic and trade relationship with these countries than it does with Iran, and this imbalance is likely to increase further due to US sanctions.

The bottom line is that the Biden administration must end its self-destructive policy of eagerly seeking to revive the failed nuclear deal of 2015 with the easing of pressure on Iran. Returning to a maximum pressure approach is much more promising.

This change in approach to sanctions would not only improve the chances of a satisfactory outcome of the nuclear negotiations with Iran, but would also reduce the Beijing’s economic incentives to build closer ties with Iran.

©2022 The Daily Signal. Published with permission. Original in English