Economic warfare have failed to make Iran and China capitulate.
Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst
Sanctions have become a formidable weapon used by Washington to maintain pressure against
China and suffocate Iran. The U.S. has become consumed with anti-Iranian hatred and Sinophobia
and is waging a war on two fronts by using sanctions and economic pressure. Although it may seem
like two separate issues, sanctions that hit Tehran do not fail to affect Beijing, its main economic
partner. However, there is also a major contradiction in Washington’s sanctions policy against Iran,
especially regarding Central Asia.
Tehran has been under a U.S. sanctions regime that has steadily increased since the success of the
Iranian Revolution in 1979. The arrival of Donald Trump to the White House in 2016 marked a clear
intensification of sanctions against Iran and a new trade war against China. With Washington's exit
from the Iranian nuclear deal in 2018, the U.S. wanted to reduce exports from the Islamic Republic
to zero. More importantly, Washington wanted to prohibit other countries from importing Iranian
energy. Although the sanctions are obviously aimed against the Islamic Republic, they are also a part
of a larger economic war against China, the U.S.’ greatest economic adversary.
Sanctions under former president Barack Obama were seen as a great solution to force an enemy
country to negotiate or have their leaders removed from power without resorting to military force –
but as proven, this utterly failed if we look at the Syrian, Russian and Venezuelan examples. In the
Iranian case, sanctions were hoped to strike two enemies at once, Tehran and Beijing. It was hoped
that sanctions would push Iran to the negotiating table whilst simultaneously hampering the
country’s hydrocarbon supplies to China.
Therefore, it is not only Iran’s enrichment of uranium that is in Washington's crosshairs. China has
become Irans main economic partner, which greatly frustrates Washington as it hinders their efforts
to topple the Mullahs from power.
In July 2020, Iran and China signed a strategic cooperation agreement for a period of 25 years. In
return, China receives discounted gas and oil from Iran – in fact they receive it 30% cheaper than the
market rate. It is estimated that China has agreed to inject $280 billion to $400 billion of Foreign
Direct Investment into Iranian oil, gas and petrochemical industries as part of the 25-year
Cooperation Program. Beijing and Tehran, despite their political differences (China is ruled by a
communist government and Iran is an Islamic theocracy), they have the mutual goal of resisting U.S.
China is using Iran as a lever of influence in the region, and Iran is using China to alleviate its
economic difficulties. However, the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement encouraged and
consolidated this rapprochement, something Trump and his policymakers did not anticipate. The 25-
year Cooperation Program is a collaboration at all levels and is a political reorientation. This
collaboration allows Tehran to somewhat circumvent U.S. sanctions.
Because of the 25-year Cooperation Program, Iran has become a strategic passage for the Belt and
Road Initiative to connect Western China and Central Asia with Turkey and European markets.
However, Sino-Iranian collaboration is slowed down by sanctions as transactions are blocked. Taking
a dim view of Beijing's ambitions, American sanctions against Iran also hope to curb Chinese
In Iran, only the Chabahar Port is exempt from American sanctions. This is because the
reconstruction of Afghanistan is a goal for Washington and the Indian-invested Chabahar Port plays
an important role in this endeavor. The Chabahar Port is more important towards the U.S.’
Afghanistan policy as it is Indian-invested, unlike the nearby Gwadar Port in Pakistan which is
Chinese-invested. Chabahar and Gwadar Ports, less than 200km away from each other, are
competing to become the main port to service Central Asia.
And here is the contradiction.
The real goal of not implementing sanctions on Chabahar Port is to allow India access to Afghanistan
and therefore Central Asia to challenge China, and perhaps even Russia, from having greater
influence in the landlocked region. This is further proof of American hypocrisy when it comes to
challenging China as it is willing to overlook decades long sanctions and pressure against Iran in
pursuit of weakening Beijing. This is even though intensified sanctions against Iran are also aimed
By sanctioning and attempting to isolate Iran, Washington has in actual fact allowed Chinese
penetration into the country and thus have even greater leverage and influence in Central Asia. This
is because the Iran borders Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, countries that go onwards to Tajikistan
and Uzbekistan, and eventually Kazakhstan. U.S. policymakers either did not consider this or grossly
miscalculated. Although India may gain access to Central Asia via the Chabahar Port, it will not be
able to compete with Chinese economic dominance in Iran, something which occurred in part
because of U.S. sanctions.
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