Xi meets Raisi, injecting new momentum to China-Iran comprehensive strategic partnership
Published: Feb 14, 2023 11:07 PM Updated: Feb 14, 2023 11:08 PM
Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomes visiting Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 14, 2023. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomes visiting Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 14, 2023. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Tuesday in Beijing where the two leaders agreed on deepening China-Iran comprehensive strategic partnership. The two sides are expected to increase coordination under multilateral platforms such as the UN and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and inject positive energy to regional and global peace. 

Raisi's three-day visit to China - the first since he took office in August 2021 - will accelerate the implementation of the 25-year agreement between the two countries, Chinese experts said. This meeting between the two leaders will also guide bilateral cooperation to a higher level, underscoring the deepened mutual trust between the two countries despite geopolitical uncertainties, they said. 

China has always viewed and developed its relations with Iran from a strategic perspective, Xi said to Raisi, noting that no matter how the international and regional situation changes, China will unswervingly develop friendly cooperation with Iran, push for new development of the China-Iran comprehensive strategic partnership, and play a positive role in world peace and human progress. 

China supports Iran in safeguarding its sovereignty, territorial integrity and national dignity and supports its fight against unilateralism, hegemony and external forces that interfere in Iran's domestic affairs and sabotage its stability, Xi said. The Chinese side is also willing to deepen the comprehensive partnership by deepening cooperation in trade, agriculture, industry and infrastructure as well as expand cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative. 

For his part, Raisi said the time-tested friendship between Iran and China has become even firmer as time goes by. As two independent major countries, the Iran-China relations are based on the spirit of mutual respect, and they are sincere strategic partners worthy of mutual trust.

Iran's commitment to deepening and upgrading the Iran-China comprehensive strategic partnership is unswerving and will not be affected by any changes in the international and regional situation, Raisi stressed.

After the meeting, the two leaders jointly witnessed the signing of a number of bilateral cooperation documents in the fields of agriculture, trade, tourism, environmental protection, health, disaster relief, culture and sports, according to Xinhua. During the visit of Iranian president, the two sides will issue a joint statement, Xinhua reported. 

The Iranian president is accompanied by a wide-ranging team including the new central bank governor, and six members of Raisi's cabinet such as the ministers of economy, petroleum, foreign affairs and trade, according to media reports. 

Chinese experts said that in contrast to the US' waning influence in the Middle East, regional countries including Iran are seeking diversified relations with other countries, which conveys a positive significance for building a multipolar world free from US hegemony. 

Cooperation at full speed 

China and Iran established a comprehensive strategic partnership during Xi's visit to Iran in 2016, since when the two sides have moved forward to promote the development of this partnership, including cooperation under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. 

"The purpose of Raisi's visit to China this time is to further promote Iran-China relations and the implementation of the comprehensive strategic partnership," Wu Sike, former Chinese special envoy on the Middle East, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

In 2021, China and Iran signed a 25-year agreement to enhance comprehensive cooperation in a range of fields. Under the deal, the two sides would tap the potential of economic and cultural cooperation and make plans for long-term cooperation. 

"The 25-year cooperation program, including energy, trade and infrastructure, has faced obstacles, especially when the US escalated sanctions on both Iran and China. The two sides will likely focus on how to advance practical cooperation between Iran and China amid the growing external uncertainties," Liu Zhongmin, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

Regarding the international situation, China and Iran have common or similar positions. The two countries oppose hegemony and unilateralism and emphasize the respect for the rights and interests of all countries, Raisi wrote in an article published on People's Daily on Monday. 

During the meeting with Xi on Tuesday, Raisi said Iran welcomes more Chinese companies to invest in the country and more Chinese tourists to travel there. Iran also firmly supports the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, the Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative. 

Iran's national development plan and its Look to the East strategy are highly compatible with the BRI, and deepened cooperation provides a guarantee for high quality development that will accelerate Iran's economic growth and help consolidate its status in transport and energy, Zhu Yongbiao, executive director of the Research Center for the Belt and Road at Lanzhou University, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

"Such deepened cooperation is significant for China, including ensuring energy security and boosting high quality BRI projects," Zhu said. 

During the meeting between Xi and Raisi, the two sides also agreed to increase coordination on regional and global issues and maintain active coordination under the auspices of multilateral organizations such as the UN and the SCO. 

With official approval from Tehran, Iran is one step closer to joining the SCO. As an important power in the region, Iran's admission into the SCO will help expand its influence, Wu said. 

Active role 

During the meeting between the two heads of state, both emphasized a rejection of unilateralism, hegemony and foreign interference in the domestic affairs of Iran. Chinese experts believe that in contrast to the US' declining influence in the Middle East, China-proposed development and security initiatives will play a more active role in promoting peace and stability and resolving conflicts. 

Some foreign media outlet have been sowing discord between China and Iran, claiming that the visit came after Xi's meeting with the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries last December, with the joint statement triggering dissatisfaction from Iran, or claiming that cooperation between the two sides will weaken US efforts to isolate Iran, further affecting US-China relations.

"The development of friendly cooperative relations between China and Iran is conducive to the well-being of the two peoples and stability in the Middle East, and does not target any third party," Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said on Tuesday. 

Xi praised Iran's willingness to improve relations with its neighboring countries, supporting regional countries to resolve disputes through negotiations and playing a constructive role in regional peace and stability. China will continue playing a constructive role in resuming full negotiations in the Iran nuclear deal and supporting Iran to safeguard its legitimate rights, helping the nuclear issue to be resolved soon, he told Raisi.

Compared with the US, China is perfectly capable of maintaining good relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, Wu said, referring to long time hostility between these two countries. 

"First of all, China does not interfere in other countries' internal affairs. Second, China has always sought cooperation, rather than encouraging confrontation. In the face of regional disputes, China has always played a role in promoting peace talks and easing tensions," he said.