China, Iran 'old friends' exploring new cooperation
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi's visit to China from Tuesday to Thursday shows Beijing and Teheran are committed to deepening political and economic cooperation in the new era. Since Iran has stressed the importance of its "Look East" policy in its pursuit of a more balanced foreign policy, Asian countries including China have become more important for Iran's diplomacy.
That it was Raisi's first visit to China since he took office in 2021 and his first foreign trip in 2023 shows how determined Iran is to carry through its "Look East" policy. And since China has been pursuing its unique path to modernization, high-quality development and opening-up, it can benefit from a reinforced comprehensive strategic partnership with Iran.
Raisi said that Iran attaches great importance to improving ties with China. In an article published in People's Daily a day before he landed in Beijing, Raisi described China as an "old friend" and the "best partner in future cooperation", emphasizing that Iran will continue improving relations with China despite regional and international hurdles.
During his three-day visit, Raisi led a sizable delegation to China, including Iranian Cabinet members such as the ministers of foreign affairs, trade, transportation and agriculture, and the chief nuclear negotiator, central bank head, business leaders and think tank members. The Iranian delegation members held meetings with Chinese leaders, businesspeople of the two countries and Iranians living in China.
Economic cooperation will remain a vital part of Sino-Iranian relations, not least because the two countries are economically complementary. And it is because of this complementarity that China has been Iran's largest trade partner for the past years.
Yet the bilateral economic potential has not been fully tapped and, as a result, Sino-Iranian annual trade volume was about $30 billion in the past three years. To be sure, the two countries have been taking measures to strengthen economic ties. For example, in 2021, they signed the bilateral comprehensive cooperation agreement, which many say would prove to be a milestone in China-Iran cooperation in the next 25 years. But the all-around long-term cooperation framework has made little progress because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the strict US-led Western sanctions against Iran and a change in Iran's investment environment.
The main goal of Raisi's visit to China was to discuss how to expeditiously implement the agreement in multiple fields including agriculture, trade, industry, infrastructure, tourism, environmental protection, and healthcare.
Besides, Iran is also committed to boosting cooperation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization — an inter-governmental organization mainly aimed at maintaining regional peace and security — and the Belt and Road Initiative. On Feb 7, Raisi signed an order to accelerate the implementation of the SCO's rules. And if all the procedures are completed without a hitch, Iran will become a formal, full member of the SCO and likely attend the 2023 SCO summit in an official capacity.
Also, Raisi's visit will strengthen bilateral communication on regional and global issues, and coordination on multilateral platforms such as the United Nations and the SCO. With Raisi's support for the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, the two countries will try to build more cooperation mechanisms based on the BRI, so as to improve interconnectivity and people-to-people exchanges.
The Sino-Iranian heads-of-state diplomacy in recent years has helped maintain a strong momentum of all-round development in recent years, as well as deepen political mutual trust and stabilize cooperation.
During President Xi Jinping's visit to Iran in 2016, the two sides established a comprehensive strategic partnership, and in 2021 they inked the China-Iran 25-Year Cooperation Agreement.
On the conclusion of Raisi's visit, the two countries issued a joint statement, saying they would improve communication and cooperation.
The world is undergoing massive changes as it moves toward an era of multipolarism amid the rise of Asia. As two major countries with regional and international influences, China and Iran can provide a fresh impetus for global peace and development if they boost cooperation.
The author is an assistant research fellow at the Institute of World Economics and Politics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.
If you have a specific expertise, or would like to share your thought about our stories, then send us your writings at email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org.