Iran seeks closer BRI cooperation to counter US hegemony, unilateralism
Published: Aug 06, 2023 08:46 PM
Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Editor's Note:

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Through the lens of foreign pundits, we take a look at 10 years of the BRI - how it achieves win-win cooperation between China and countries along the Belt and Road and how it increases people's sense of fulfillment in these countries.

Hamed Vafaei (Vafaei), chair of Chinese Language and Literature at University of Tehran, shared with Global Times (GT) reporters Su Yaxuan and Li Aixin his understanding of the BRI and his expectations for the initiative in the near future.

This is the eighth piece of the series.

GT: What do you think of the progress and achievements of the BRI over the past decade? How do local Iranians view and assess the BRI?

Iran is one of the world's oldest civilizations, and its ties with China can be traced back centuries. The two nations have maintained excellent cultural, economic and political relations. Iran enthusiastically backed the BRI from the start. Universities and think tanks in Iran are researching the possibility of collaboration between the two nations. A growing number of students are also opting to study at Confucius Institutes in Iran.

The BRI has accomplished a great deal during the last decade. China's influence in Iran has recently grown, as seen in the improving Iran-Saudi relations and the Iran nuclear issue. After the COVID-19 pandemic ended, Chinese businesses have resumed collaboration with Iran. Many Chinese entrepreneurs are researching the possibility of collaboration with Iran, highlighting the significant investment and cooperation potential in Iran. Also, Iranians are highly open to Chinese business people, artists and scientists, and they are ready to work with them more than ever. Iranian enterprises, in particular, seek to join the BRI cooperation projects. Iranians have been actively discussing the topic since the introduction of the BRI, including the impact of the BRI on both China and Iran. Many nations and academics around the world worry that US hegemony and unilateralism are destroying the present international order. In contrast, they are more welcoming of China, and many people are eager to understand what the BRI entails, and they have discovered that some policies inside the initiative's framework are win-win and just. Iranians are also aware that China promotes multilateralism and win-win collaboration, so the BRI is widely welcomed. During the past 10 years, I believe they have comprehended it.

GT: Within the framework of the BRI, what specifically has been achieved through China-Iran cooperation?

To begin, in terms of the economy, China has boosted cooperation in trade and investment, notably in energy and infrastructure, in the aftermath of the pandemic.

I believe there have also been important diplomatic successes. During the implementation of the BRI, China and Iran entered a new era in their diplomatic ties. This covers, among other things, the Iran Nuclear Deal, the breakthrough of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and China-Iran cooperation in the Persian Gulf. The potential for future cooperation between the two countries is enormous. 

Now Iran and China have a comprehensive strategic partnership. This indicates that Iran and China place each other in a comprehensive position. A comprehensive strategic partnership has three key elements: First, the two countries should be partners rather than adversaries; second, this partnership is based on the strategic global situation, not just local issues, and it is long-term; third, this strategic partnership is constructive, not exclusive.

GT: How do you see the prospect for China-Iran collaboration within the BRI framework?

Personally, I think there are still some obstacles preventing the two nations' collaboration, such as US sanctions. However, the global environment is changing. Over the past 50 years, particularly during the Cold War, many countries have been harmed by US hegemony. They therefore oppose unilateralism and are in favor of multilateralism which China advocates. Multilateral diplomatic relations with China are actively being promoted by many nations. Therefore, I think there will be novel possibilities for Iran and China to work together in the future.

Moreover, Iran is also a major player in the Middle East, particularly in the energy sector. And China has the second-largest economy in the world. There is tremendous room for cooperation between the two nations on all fronts, including the political, military, national security and economic ones. Future cooperation will undoubtedly benefit both nations if they genuinely explore the possibilities for cooperation and develop plans.

GT: Saudi Arabia and Iran have resumed diplomatic ties with China's mediation. Do you think it's possible for China, Iran and Saudi Arabia to collaborate together under the BRI? In which areas do you believe collaboration is most likely?

I firmly believe that it is achievable. China has played a crucial role in bridging the gap between Saudi Arabia and Iran, fostering relations between the two nations and contributing to stability and peace in the Middle East. It is also very likely that Saudi Arabia and Iran will work together in a trilateral capacity as part of the BRI.

However, a prerequisite for this cooperation is that Saudi Arabia and Iran can effectively leverage China's potential and practices to deepen mutual trust in terms of economy, politics, and national security. I hope the cooperation among the three countries can gradually progress, starting with cultural and economic aspects, such as opening up tourism after the pandemic and mutual business establishment, and gradually transitioning to national strategies and security.

GT: Western nations, particularly the US, have described the BRI implementation as a means to compete for regional dominance, branding it as a "debt trap." What do you think about this description?

In my opinion, the US' Cold War attitude is the biggest issue facing Western nations. Some Western nations have been using a Cold War lens to view contemporary international phenomena. A typical example is their perception of the BRI.

When they approach the BRI with a Cold War mentality, they inevitably adopt a zero-sum perspective and assume that China aims to replace the US. However, if they can move beyond the Cold War mindset, they will realize that their initial stance is incorrect. In today's world, we do not seek conflict as it is no longer the Cold War era.

Under the terms of the BRI architecture and agreements, debt traps won't be created. I consider the phrase "debt trap" to be extremely odd and absurd. Western nations' opinions of China and the BRI are flawed because of their lack of awareness of the global environment. They must acknowledge that the time of American hegemony and unilateralism is over. The phrase "debt trap" will vanish as soon as people accept this.

I have a favorable outlook on China-Iran collaboration. We have numerous cooperation groups, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS, and other East Asian institutions, thanks to the Belt and Road and China's proactive diplomacy, despite the barriers to good relations between the two nations. They will take an especially active part and offer a fantastic setting for collaboration.

GT: The US has been continuously adding pressure through sanctions on Iran for many years. How do you evaluate this behavior by the US? Which aspects do you think the BRI has alleviated the crisis caused by US sanctions on Iran?

Without a doubt, the illegal sanctions imposed by the US have had a negative impact on the Iranian people's daily lives. Many Iranians, especially patients, are unable to get necessary medications as a result of these restrictions. Additionally, many companies are unable to engage in international business, which impedes Iran's development. All of this is a result of American hegemony, which not only goes against the interests of the Iranian people but also undermines regional and global stability by disrupting the security and stability of Iran and the Middle East. Undoubtedly, the US also aims to sabotage the fruitful and deep partnership between China and Iran. It continues to disregard the shift away from unilateralism and US-centered hegemony.

China is an influential country, and the entire nation of Iran excitedly anticipates that collaboration between the two countries, notably within the BRI, can have a favorable impact on offsetting the US sanctions. China has often denounced the harmful acts taken by the US in relation to the Iran nuclear agreement. Iran seeks to collaborate more closely with China under the BRI framework to counter US hegemony and unilateralism.

There are many other issues in the world, including the Israel-Palestine issue, the Iran-Saudi issue, the Russia-Ukraine issue, and various issues in African countries. Many people around the world, after witnessing China's influence and understanding its foreign policy and attitude, hope to see China play an active role in these international issues.

China, Iran and the majority of nations have interests in a multilateral setting. Both nations share similar political views, and have common interests. Therefore, I am confident that China and Iran will work together more closely in the future given their cordial relationship and shared interests, and the Belt and Road will be crucial to this.