If the intent of the Obama Iran strategy was to woo the great Persian nation to the West in a complex geopolitical game, and turn her against Russia, China and the emerging Eurasian Century being constructed around China’s One Belt, One Road project, it is emerging as another colossal failure.
The newly-sanction-free Iran, far from becoming a pawn of NATO intrigues, is making rapid and brilliant moves to connect with her Eurasian neighbors. What a contrast to the Saudi-Turkish moves to connect with murder, rape and destruction in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and beyond in the name of Allah and oil.
One week after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s historic visit to post-sanctions Iran, where the two countries signed major trade agreements including bringing Iran fully into the emerging strategic New Economic Silk Road and Maritime Road blueprint, China launched a new maritime shipping route to Iran. Two days before that, the first freight train departed China for the Islamic Republic.
Anyone who has experienced the industriousness of the Chinese, once they define a major goal, will not be surprised. Still, it shows the strategic priority Beiing is giving to integrate Iran, a centuries-long ally of China going back to the ancient Silk Road, into its unfolding Eurasian economic space. Events to flesh out Iran’s integration into the Eurasian One Belt, One Road are moving on both sides very rapidly.
Clearly, at the next annual Shanghai Cooperation Organization annual meeting later this year, Teheran will also be invited to full membership status in that organization now that sanctions are lifted as well, firming a growing political and economic bond with the nations of Eurasia following years of sanctions and isolation.
On February 1, an Iranian container ship arrived at Qinzhou Port in China’s southern Guangxi Province, facing the Beibu Gulf or Gulf of Tonkin, near Vietnam. The arrival of the Iranian ship, Peranin, delivering 978 containers from “several countries along the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road,” China’s designation for the maritime part of its vast One Belt, One Road strategy, marked the opening of the first shipping route linking the Middle East and the Beibu Gulf.
Two days earlier, China’s first freight train set off on a two-week maiden voyage to Iran from the southeastern trade hub of Yiwu in the central Zhejiang Province. This is a prelude to construction of the new high-speed rail infrastructure that will break Iran’s economic isolation and open that great land with its vast human and mineral resources, to join the emerging economic boom that is developing across Eurasia.
This Eurasian economic boom, set to be the greatest economic expansion for the world economy of the past two centuries, began some two years ago when President Xi defined the details of his landmark One Belt, One Road and announced creation of an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in Beijing to help finance the huge construction project, now estimated to cost almost one trillion dollars over the next decade.
China’s major Mideast partner
During their talks in Teheran on January 26, both China President Xi and Iran’s President Rouhani stressed the close relation between the two Eurasian countries. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, told XI Jinping that Iran will continue its policy of bolstering ties with the “East,” lauding China’s “independent” stance in global issues. Then, making crystal clear that Iran is not about to become a vassal of Washington and their one world globalization scheme, Khamenei declared,
“Westerners have never obtained the trust of the Iranian nation. The government and nation of Iran have always sought expanding relations with independent and trustful countries like China.”
The two countries at that meeting, in addition to formal agreement on Iranian participation in the New Silk Road, announced plans to increase bilateral trade in the coming ten years to at least $600 billion annually. Already more than one third of Iran’s foreign trade is with China, which, before US sanctions, was Iran’s major oil customer.
In his remarks to Iranian press, Xi also made clear that China’s priority partner in the Middle East is and will be Iran. “Iran is China’s major partner in the Middle East and the two countries have chosen to boost bilateral relations,” Xi stated.
Iran plans rail link
Only days following the January 26 Iran-China economic agreements, Iranian President Rouhani made a major announcement of plans to build a strategic cross-country railway. Given the extreme mountainous terrain of the country, that is no small project. It will form an essential link to the extension of China’s Eurasian New Silk Road.
Iran’s special geography, surrounded by two great mountain ranges, gives her a natural defense as well as previous obstacles to open trade between the Middle East neighbors and Central Asia, China, India
On February 6, Iranian President Rouhani announced that the government plans to construct a rail link of some 900 miles length across mountainous terrain to link the Shi’ite holy cities of Mashhad in Iran and Karbala in Iraq. Karbala, situated between Baghdad and Najaf in central Iraq, is one of the holiest cities of Shi’ite Muslims, the site of the famous Battle of Karbala in which Imam Hussein, Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, was slain in 680 AD. It’s also adjacent to the major DAESH or ISIS held territory in northern Iraq.
The proposed railway link to Mashhad would bring the Iranian rail infrastructure near to the Turkmenistan border. The plan for connecting with China’s New Silk Road high-speed rail network will go from the Xinjiang Province city of Kashgar, the westernmost city in China, located near the border with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It will go to Afghanistan’s Herat, then through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, finally connecting with the Iranian railway.
Then Iran and Pakistan have agreed to lay railway track to connect Iran’s port city of Chabahar with Pakistan’s port of Gwadar. The Chabahar-Gwadar rail link was decided in a meeting recently between Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri and an Iranian delegation led by the governor of the Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchestan, Aaqa Ali Hosth Hashmi, in Gwadar.
That rail link between Iran’s Chabahar Port and Pakistan’s Gwadar Port, on the waters where the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea meet, will have a geo-strategic significance of major dimension.
Gwadar is the location of the major China-Pakistan infrastructure project known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, begun in 2014. The Corridor is a $46 billion infrastructure project of rails, highways between China and Pakistan’s Gwadar port, linking China’s 21 Century Maritime Silk Road with the New Economic Silk Road rail infrastructure network. It’s a joint project of the China Export-Import Bank and the government of Pakistan.
Outline of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, part of the One Belt, One Road Eurasian Century Grand Design
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, now under construction, will link Gwadar Port to China’s Xinjiang via a vast network of highways and railways. That network includes the Karachi–Peshawar Main Railway line. The rail line, largely a relic of the British colonial era from the end of the 19th century, is being completely overhauled for train travel at up to 160 kilometers per hour, with expected completion by December 2019. This line will now be connected to the Chinese high-speed railway network in Kashgar in Xinjiang Province.
Geopolitical shift in process
These Iranian, Chinese, Iraqi and Pakistani infrastructure developments have enormous geopolitical implications for the future of the Eurasian landmass, a space enclosing almost three billion people, almost half the world’s population, with vast natural resources, educated work forces and world class scientists from Russia to China to Iran and beyond.
As I noted in a previous article on this same site, step-by-careful-step, Iran, Russia and China are building a firm Eurasian “Golden Triangle,” one which will economically, politically, culturally end ultimately, militarily, stabilize the emerging New Silk Road Eurasian nations.
Russia, as I have noted many times, is seen increasingly by Iran as an essential Eurasian partner together with China. In a statement covered in complete by the Iranian national IRNA news agency, but omitted from Western accounts, Iran’s influential Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif recently declared, “We have maintained and boosted ties with Russia and China.” That’s precisely the Golden Triangle that’s now emerging.
The common golden thread binding the three great Eurasian cultures and nations–China, Iran, Russia–is their principled insistence that, as with individual human beings, so with nations, borders and national sovereignty are inviolable principles. They are principles which, as Russia and China and Iran repeatedly stress, are also woven into the heart of the UN Charter and should not be violated because one nation or even several nations find their defense of their national sovereignty “undesireable.”
All three nations–Iran, China and Russia–agree that a “borderless world” like borderless individuals is a dangerous delusion. Their growing cooperation based on respect for national sovereignty may just save the world from self-destruction. That would be to the good.
F. William Engdahl is strategic risk consultant and lecturer, he holds a degree in politics from Princeton University and is a best-selling author on oil and geopolitics, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.