Niu Song: Stable foreign policy likely to be priority for post-sanctions Iran
Publish time: 2016-01-28 Browsing times: 10

Following Chinese President Xi Jinping's Iran visit this month, Western media are suspicious of the future orientation of Beijing-Tehran relationship. As the last leg of Xi's three-nation tour of the Middle East, Iran is undergoing positive changes after the signing of the historic nuclear deal, but is also experiencing diplomatic tensions with Saudi Arabia. Thus, Xi's Tehran visit has drawn international attention, especially from the West.

Xi is the first state leader to visit Iran since the nuclear deal. In addition, with the One Belt, One Road initiative, Beijing-Tehran relationship will see an upward trend in the future. For the Western countries, China's interactions with Iran are posing a huge threat to them.

In fact, the West has overestimated China's influence in the Middle East, and underestimated the diplomatic wisdom of Iran.

More importantly, the West has ignored the substantial domestic political costs Tehran has to endure in its rise after the nuclear deal.

Although Xi's visit has witnessed many bilateral cooperation agreements in finance, railway, trade, energy and many other areas, there is still a big gap in diplomatic efforts between China and the European countries in Iran. Europe regards West Asia and Africa as its backyard. The EU has spared no effort in promoting its relationship with Iran, namely, accelerating Tehran's economic liberalization and political democratization via economic cooperation.

The European Commission launched negotiations with Iran for a Trade and Cooperation Agreement in 2001, which was then suspended due to the nuclear issues. Europe-Iran relationship had been well-developed before the international sanctions.

Despite the boycott, the EU still does not want to see the US being too tough on Iran. The fact that three of the P5+1 nations are from the EU has reflected Europe's influence on the Tehran-related issues.

China's One Belt, One Road initiative follows the principle of wide consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits. Beijing has no intention to make Tehran its agent in the Middle East. Both Iran and Europe are important friends for China. The valuable experiences Beijing and the West gained in jointly addressing Tehran's nuclear issues can be expanded into the economic section. China and Europe both have their own advantages in economic cooperation with Iran.

While China never intervenes into the domestic affairs of other countries, its efforts in facilitating peaceful negotiations have won trust from the Middle East nations.

Beijing is not only unbiased in regional political disputes, but also has kept itself away from religious conflicts. It has maintained a neutral stance in developing its relationship with Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Facing Riyadh-Tehran diplomatic tensions, Xi visited both nations during this Middle East trip, demonstrating China's hope for Riyadh-Tehran reconciliation. Making Egypt the second stop in the three-nation tour has reflected China's respects to Saudi Arabia-Iran status quo.

Beijing has been attempting to strike a balance between the two sides. Apart from the economic and trade agreements, China has established comprehensive strategic partnership with both Saudi Arabia and Iran. Therefore, it is unreasonable to argue that a closer Beijing-Tehran relationship may irritate Riyadh.

The current diplomatic crisis is a consequence of the long-lasting and sophisticated religious conflicts, as well as the realistic economic interests.

It is an irreversible trend for Iran to exercise its rights to re-launch its oil business. Tehran's returning to a normal state conforms to the overall interests of the international community, which Riyadh is also clear.

Even if the Saudi Arabia-Iran relationship may not improve soon, it will not deteriorate either.

Rome was not built in a day, and Tehran's domestic political restructuring is of vital importance in building Iran-US political trust, implementing Iran-Europe and Iran-China economic agreements and reshaping regional geopolitical landscapes.

With the international sanctions, conservative control over Tehran's economy had been strengthened.

After opening up, the Iranian government should spare no effort to win Iran international acknowledgement.

In addition, it is necessary to comfort those religious and military groups that may suffer heavy economic losses after the sanctions lifted. Iran's foreign policies will be tied by its domestic politics to a large degree.

Therefore, a relatively smooth foreign relationship is expected to be a priority for Iran for some time.

The author is an associate professor at the Shanghai International Studies University and Center for Religion & China's National Security of Fudan University.

Source:Global Times