[caption id="attachment_268314" align="alignnone" width="600"] In this Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016 photo released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Tehran, Iran. A portrait of late Iranian revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini hangs on the wall. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)[/caption]
Regardless of what the Obama administration might try to tell you, Iran and China are two of our biggest geopolitical adversaries. It should go without saying that any diplomacy between them should concern us, but that's exactly what's happening. Chinese Xi Jinping just concluded a visit to the Islamic Republic, where he and Ayatollah Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani worked on strengthening ties between the two countries. From France24:
The Asian giant and the Middle East’s foremost Shiite power aim to build economic ties worth up to $600 billion within the next 10 years, Rouhani announced.
The two leaders oversaw the signing of 17 agreements in areas including politics, the economy, security and cooperation on peaceful nuclear energy.
“With the Chinese president’s visit to Tehran and our agreements, a new chapter has begun in Tehran-Beijing relations,” Rouhani said in a televised speech, flanked by Xi.
The two countries agreed to enhance cooperation including in fossil and renewable energy, transportation, railways, ports, industry, commerce and services, said the statement, published by Mehr news agency.
China has committed to “invest and finance upstream and downstream energy projects in Iran,” it said.
As the the article also notes, this is the first time a Chinese President has visited Iran in 14 years, and the fact that it comes just after the international sanctions on Iran were lifted is more than just a coincidence. With greater freedom to act, Iran is moving quickly to strengthen itself internationally. Beijing, for its part, could certainly use the oil that a stronger alliance with Iran could bring. In 2014, the two countries engaged in about $52 billion worth of trade. Now, they are aiming for increasing that number to about $600 billion over the next decade
The France24 article doesn't mention it (but is still worth a read), but there are other important things to note from these talks, like Khamenei making it obvious how his country feels about the West, even after the nuclear deal. From Reuters:
"Iranians never trusted the West... That's why Tehran seeks cooperation with more independent countries (like China)," Khamenei said.
"Iran is the most reliable country in the region for energy since its energy policies will never be affected by foreigners," Khamenei was quoted by his official website as saying at a meeting with Xi.
This kind of rhetoric should not surprise astute observers, but if you need a blatantly obvious indication of how serious Iran is in engaging the West in anything approaching good faith, this should tell you all you need. The recent nuclear deal was nothing more than the Islamic Republic finding a way to swindle Western leaders into allowing them to get their hands on enrichable uranium legally, while dodging any real attempt to impose true supervision on how they use it--because we know the West won't really try to do so.
Also, as Ellie Geranmayeh of the European Council on Foreign Relations explains, "Iran plays quite an integral role for both China and Russia’s interests within the region, much more than it does for the Europeans." The reasons, again, should be fairly obvious. Stronger alliances with Iran give both countries oil and a foothold in the region, and this foothold, of course, is avowedly anti-Western and, more importantly, anti-American. That is something that absolutely cannot be overlooked when analyzing why either of the countries--especially China in this case--want to become friendlier with Iran. If you want a new Axis of Evil, you've got it.
I don't think there's any real question that this is happening because both countries know that the rest of the world won't act, and by "rest of the world", I basically mean America. The Obama administration's weakness, whether intentional or not, is the reason this is happening. This is the kind of world the next President is going to have to deal with. Who do you trust to deal with it?* That's something to think about as we head into the primaries and toward November.
*=If you answered Hillary, Bernie, or Trump, you've answered wrongly.