This is the Iranian foreign minister’s third visit to China this year. During his two previous visits, in February and May, Tehran received diplomatic support over a serious row with the United States. This time Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in China for support in promoting his initiative.
On the sidelines of the G7 summit in Biarritz, it was reported that Iran wanted to coordinate the exports of at least 700,000 barrels of oil, ideally up to 1.5 million barrels per day, in exchange for an agreement to maintain the 2015 nuclear deal. At the same time, China and India are among the recipients of Iranian oil that can be excluded from the American sanctions.
Irina Fedorova from the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences didn’t rule out such possibility.
“Judging by the fact that there are quite intense diplomatic negotiations between European states and Iran, and also between Europe and the USA, we cannot rule out the possibility of Iran getting any relaxations. European countries are interested in maintaining the nuclear deal. Inviting Iran to the G7 summit shows Europe and Iran’s interest in maintaining the oil trade”, she said.
The expert noted that despite the sanctions “China remains one of the most important buyers of Iranian oil”.
“Of course, Zarif’s Beijing negotiations will be focused on maintaining Iranian oil supplies to China, this is the most important issue”, Fedorova said.
Beijing is interested in that; they continue buying reduced volumes of Iranian oil.
At the same time, their position is rather cautious. According to the expert, China is trying not to give any cause to exacerbate the already tense relations with the United States.
“First, we need to identify two main positions. First of all, the importance of Sino-US relations substantially exceeds the importance of Sino-Iranian relations. From a comprehensive strategic point of view, the US is more important to China’s interests than any other country in the world, not just Iran. Secondly, for the implementation of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Iran is considered the central state for the sea and land Silk Roads. That is to say, while promoting the Belt and Road, China should definitely develop and maintain relations with Iran”, Ji Kaiyun, Director of the Centre for the Study of Iran at Southwestern University, noted speaking about what kind of support China can provide to Iran when, as the G7 summit has shown, the United States isn’t ready even for formal contacts with Tehran.
The expert identified five priority areas of Beijing’s support for Tehran:
“Firstly, China and Iran can work closely in the tourism industry to maintain favourable interaction. Every year, one million Chinese tourists come to Iran, which has a direct impact on its economy. Secondly, the Chinese government will encourage expanding investments and operations of state-owned enterprises in Iran. Thirdly, there’s the development of Sino-Iranian cooperation in education and culture. Fourth, China actively defends Iran’s voting rights, and supports its criticism of the United States for their unilateral comprehensive sanctions. Fifth, to the best of its ability, China still hopes to work with EU states to help Iran out of its troubles. In general, China’s support for Iran is pragmatic; it demonstrates the solid foundation of Sino-Iranian friendship”.
From China, the Iranian foreign minister will go to Japan and Malaysia. The possibility of supplying Iranian oil is likely to become the main topic for discussion in Tokyo. Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe didn’t consider it possible to follow French President Emmanuel Macron’s example and hold talks with the Iranian foreign minister in Biarritz.
Apparently, the Japanese prime minister didn’t do this for fear of angering the United States, although, it’s known that Abe has good relations with Zarif. He went to Tehran on the eve of the G20 summit in Osaka. At the time, it was suggested that Japan was going to invite Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to the G20. So, apart from the presence of Donald Trump, nothing prevented him from meeting with Rouhani in Biarritz.
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