26 - 28 Sep 2018

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China courts Iran

As the Trump administration works out the specifics of itsstrategy to contain Iran,China is looking for ways to bring Iran into the global system. After therecent party congress, which cementedPresident Xi Jinping’s grip on power, those efforts will likely takethe form of the completion of his most ambitious foreign policy plan, the OneBelt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, of which Tehran will be one of the keybeneficiaries. Beijing has said that OBOR is needed to create theinfrastructure to encourage trade, but the initiative is about much more. It isalso a way to build political confidence among participating states. And itseems to be working in Iran. There, OBOR is seen as a project that will makeIran an indispensable partner not only for China but also for India, Russia,and the states of Central Asia.

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Xi’s plan, launched in 2013, was warmly welcomed by Tehranfrom the outset. The project, a $1 trillion, 10- to 15-year plan to link China withworld markets through an extensive set of land and maritimetrade routes across Eurasia, puts Iran in the center of China’s global plans.

Two factors make Iran such a central player: its inescapablegeography and its utility as a relatively stable security partner in anotherwise tumultuous Middle East. Iran’s geographic location makes it the onlyviable land bridge from the Persian Gulf to the landlocked Central Asian states(a market of about 65 million people) and the three states of the Caucasus (Armenia,Azerbaijan, and Georgia). China is committed to becoming the predominanteconomic and political power in these areas.

At the moment, the Central Asians have three outlets toworld markets: east via China, south via Iran, and west via Russia. Thesuccessful implementation of OBOR gives China de facto control over two of thethree outlets. Already, Kazakhstan is leading the pack among the five CentralAsian states in linking up to Iran. In December 2014, Kazakhstan,

Source: Foreign Affairs/Alex Vatanka

Publsihed: 11/1/17