National Security

As Tensions With U.S. Mount, China Inches Toward Iran

Chinese president Xi Jinping / Getty Images

Iran and China are closing in on a series of economic and security agreements, according to a Saturday New York Times report.

The new partnership will bring Chinese capital to Iran's energy industry, threatening to curb the effects of President Donald Trump's "maximum pressure" sanctions campaign against Iran. The new deal would give the PRC a 25-year regular discount on Iranian oil exports. In return, Iran would benefit from security and research collaborations with China's military, which is equipped with powerful surveillance technologies.

Beijing has a long history of energy dependence—relying on foreign oil at a 75 percent clip, making it the largest oil importer in the world. A deal with Tehran would free the regime from reliance on energy acquisition from countries less friendly to its interests. Iran, meanwhile, has suffered from domestic insurrection and an economy weakened by U.S. sanctions and COVID-19.

"Two Asian cultures, two partners in the sectors of trade, economy, politics, culture, and security with a similar outlook and many mutual bilateral and multilateral interests will consider one another strategic partners," an initial draft of the agreement reads.

The new partnership comes amid growing tensions between China and the United States. Recent developments regarding the South China Sea, Hong Kong, malfeasant Chinese tech firms, Uyghur concentration camps, and controversy over multilateral organizations such as the WHO leave many questioning the future of the superpowers' relationship.

Some see in these developments the beginnings of a "new Cold War." One Times story from Tuesday said, "Lines are being drawn and relations are in free fall, laying the foundation for a confrontation that will have many of the characteristics of the Cold War."

In the face of Beijing's new partnership with Tehran, Washington shows no signs of flinching.

"The United States will continue to impose costs on Chinese companies that aid Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism," said a State Department spokeswoman. "By allowing or encouraging Chinese companies to conduct sanctionable activities with the Iranian regime, the Chinese government is undermining its own stated goal of promoting stability and peace."