China and Iran's Foreign Ministers have signed a 25- year comprehensive strategic partnership agreement recently. The agreement can strengthen Iran and China's long-standing economic and political alliance which both are under US sanctions.
“Relations between the two countries have now reached the level of strategic partnership and China seeks to comprehensively improve relations with Iran,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in his visit to Tehran before signing the agreement, adding "Our relations with Iran will not be affected by the current situation, but will be permanent and strategic.”
To shed more light on the significance of the agreement, we reached out to Mr. Chang Hua China's Ambassador to Tehran.
Could you explain the history of Iran-China friendly relations on its 50th-anniversary? How long did it take for Iran and China to sign a 25-year cooperation agreement which was signed by two sides recently in Tehran? How will this agreement affect Iran-China relations in the future?
It has been almost two years since I arrived in Iran and assumed my duties. I have been deeply impressed by Iran’s long history, profound culture, and hospitable people. There have been continuous exchanges between China and Iran in history which can be dated back to the 2nd century BC when the ancient Silk Road started the line of communication from China to the Roman Empire via Persia. 600 years ago, the well-known Chinese navigator Zheng He made seven voyages to the West and visited Holmz in Iran many times. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Iran in August 1971, the political mutual trust between the two countries has been continuously deepening and practical cooperation has yielded fruitful results. In 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a successful visit to Iran during which China and Iran announced the establishment of a comprehensive strategic partnership. From then on, exchanges and cooperation in various fields of the two countries have become increasingly close. History proves that China-Iran relations have withstood the test of the changing international situation, the two countries always support each other in upholding their national sovereignty and national dignity, and safeguarding their own development path. After the outbreak of Covid-19, the two peoples of China and Iran have worked together and helped each other, setting an example for international anti-epidemic cooperation. State Councilor and Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi emphasized many times during his recent visit to Iran that no matter how the world situation changes, China's willingness to develop China-Iran relations will not change. As this year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Iran, the China-Iran friendship will certainly continue to follow the direction defined by leaders of the two countries, stand on a new historical starting point and open a new exciting chapter. As Chinese ambassador to Iran, it is my responsibility to implement the important consensus reached by leaders of the two countries and to promote the healthy and stable development of the China-Iran comprehensive strategic partnership.
How do you assess the significance of the comprehensive strategic partnership agreement? While some say that this document includes cooperation in areas of railway and road transportation, manufacturing of refinery, petrochemicals, car production, development of oil and gas projects, protection of environment and promotion of knowledge-based companies, some also believe that it only sets the blueprint for cooperation in such areas. What is your explanation?
Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif’s visit to China in October last year and State Councilor and Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi’s recent successful visit to Iran demonstrate that both sides attach great importance to the comprehensive strategic partnership of the two countries and have the political will to promote it further. During his visit to Iran, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with President Rouhani and Iranian Supreme Leader's Advisor Mr. Larijani and held friendly and in-depth talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. The two sides had extensive exchanges on bilateral cooperation in various fields as well as international and regional issues, resulting in positive achievements. When Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Iran in January 2016, China and Iran pointed out in the joint statement on the establishment of a comprehensive strategic partnership that the two parties agreed to conduct necessary communication and consultations on reaching a 25-year comprehensive cooperation agreement considering the willingness of the two countries to actively develop bilateral relations as well as the economic complementarity and the current cooperation of the two countries in energy, infrastructure, industry, technology and so on. Through communication and consultations, the two sides reached an agreement on the content of the comprehensive plan recently. On March 27, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi signed the plan for comprehensive cooperation with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. The plan focuses on tapping the potentials in economic and cultural cooperation and charting course for long-term cooperation. It doesn’t include any quantitative, specific contracts or goals but provides a general framework for China-Iran cooperation going forward. We believe the China-Iran comprehensive cooperation plan will not only benefit the two peoples of China and Iran but also contribute to regional and world peace.
Why do western countries express concern over the agreement between two sovereign states? Regarding the timing of the signing of the agreement, what is the message being sent to the West?
In recent years, the US withdrew itself from the JCPOA and reimposed sanctions on Iran, which brought difficulties and obstacles to China-Iran practical cooperation. China is always determined to preserve legitimate cooperation with Iran in trade, energy and other areas with concrete actions, and actively calls on the international community to protect the legitimate economic interests of Iran. We believe that unilateral sanctions and bullying approaches are unpopular and bound to fail. China and Iran are highly complementary in resource endowments and cooperative advantages. We should take a long-term perspective, overcome difficulties, uphold the concept of win-win cooperation, strengthen the alignment of development strategies, continue to deepen mutually-beneficial cooperation in various fields and achieve common prosperity.
Is there anything about the people-to-people and cultural areas, especially upgrading media cooperation between Iran and China in the agreement?
The plan provides a general framework for China-Iran cooperation going forward, which certainly includes people-to-people and cultural area, among which media exchanges and cooperation is an important part. Chinese President Xi Jinping once noted that the development of state-to-state relations depends on peoples’ mutual understanding. We Chinese often say that the value of friendship lies in heart-to-heart communication. As a Persian proverb goes, there is telepathy between hearts. China and Iran enjoy a long history of friendly relations. In recent years, the people-to-people and cultural exchange between the two countries has become more frequent. The two sides have deepened the exchanges on culture, science, art, and film, and strengthened the cooperation between friendship associations, media, and universities. More and more people from China and Iran are going to each other's country for tourism, business and education. The Iranian government implemented a unilateral visa exemption for Chinese citizens in 2019, which provides great convenience for Chinese citizens to visit Iran. Not long ago, a memorandum of understanding for mutual translation and publication of Chinese and Iranian classic works was signed by two countries. Both sides will jointly translate and publish 50 classic works from the two countries in five years to provide more invaluable spiritual and cultural products for the readers and people of the two nations. The two countries will keep strengthening the people-to-people and cultural communication so that the China-Iran friendship will be passed on from generation to generation.
Does the plan fall within the massive infrastructure project of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or is it complementary to it?
The Belt and Road Initiative is an open and inclusive initiative for cooperation, which follows the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, and focus on policy coordination, connectivity of infrastructure, unimpeded trade, financial integration and closer people-to-people ties. Iran has been an important transport hub and distribution center on the Silk Road since ancient times and remains a key partner of cooperation in the construction of BRI today. The two governments signed a memorandum of understanding on jointly promoting the Belt and Road Initiative in 2016. China has been Iran's largest trading partner for many consecutive years. The cooperation between China and Iran within the framework of BRI shows candid consultation and mutual benefit enhances the communication and understanding between the two peoples and promotes mutual trust and support between the two countries.
What is China's view on the West of Asia (Middle East) issue, especially the Iranian nuclear issue? How will China play its unique role in this regard?
State Councilor and Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi proposed a five-point initiative on achieving security and stability in the Middle East during his recent tour to six regional countries including Iran:
First, advocating mutual respect. The Middle East is home to unique civilizations which have cultivated unique social and political systems. The characteristics, models and paths of the Middle East must be respected. It is important to change the traditional mindset and see Middle East countries as partners for cooperation, development and peace, instead of perceiving the region through the lens of geo-competition. It is important to support Middle East countries in exploring their own paths of development, and support regional countries and their peoples in playing a major role in pursuing political settlement of such regional hotspot issues as Syria, Yemen and Libya. It is important to promote dialogue and exchanges among civilizations to achieve peaceful coexistence of all ethnicities in the Middle East. China will continue to play its constructive role to this end.
Second, upholding equity and justice. Nothing represents equity and justice in the Middle East more than a sound solution to the question of Palestine and earnest implementation of the two-state solution. We support active mediation by the international community toward this objective and holding an authoritative international meeting on this matter when conditions are ripe. In its presidency of the UN Security Council this May, China will encourage the Security Council to fully deliberate on the question of Palestine to reaffirm the two-state solution. China will continue to invite peace advocates from Palestine and Israel to China for dialogue, and also welcome Palestinian and Israeli representatives to China for direct negotiations.
Third, achieving non-proliferation. Based on the merits in the evolution of the Iranian nuclear issue, relevant parties need to move in the same direction with concrete actions and discuss and formulate the roadmap and timeframe for the United States and Iran to resume compliance with the JCPOA. The pressing task is for the United States to take substantive measures to lift its unilateral sanctions on Iran and long-arm jurisdiction on third parties, and for Iran to resume reciprocal compliance with its nuclear commitments, in an effort to achieve early harvest. At the same time, the international community should support efforts by regional countries in establishing a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
Fourth, jointly fostering collective security. In promoting security and stability in the Middle East, the legitimate concerns of all parties should be accommodated. It is important to encourage equal dialogue and consultation, mutual understanding and accommodation and improved relations among Persian Gulf countries. It is imperative to resolutely combat terrorism and advance deradicalization. China proposes holding in China a multilateral dialogue conference for regional security in the Persian Gulf region to explore the establishment of a Middle East trust mechanism, starting with such subjects as ensuring the safety of oil facilities and shipping lanes, and building step by step a framework for collective, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security in the Middle East.
Fifth, accelerating development cooperation. Enduring peace and security in the Middle East require development, cooperation and integration. It is necessary to come together to defeat the coronavirus and achieve economic and social recovery as soon as possible. It is important to help post-conflict countries rebuild, support greater diversity in the economic growth of oil-producing countries, and assist other Middle East countries in achieving development and revitalization, in light of the resource endowments of different countries in the region. China will continue to hold the China-Arab Reform and Development Forum and the Middle East Security Forum to increase the sharing of governance experience with Middle East countries.
China is prepared to stay in close touch with all sides on the five-point initiative and work closely to promote peace, security and development in the Middle East.