China could signal increased engagement with Iran, but hasn’t done so

China could signal increased engagement with Iran, but hasn’t done so
China could signal increased engagement with Iran, but hasn’t done so


While converting Iran’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) observer status into membership would primarily signal Chinese interest in substantially increasing its engagement with the Islamic Republic, moving ahead with the China-Pakistan-Iran-Turkey energy pipeline could be a geopolitical game-changer.


China’s refusal to signal interest in putting flesh on the skeleton of its partnership with Iran following the leaking of a purported wide-ranging agreement between the two countries suggests that the People’s Republic neither wants to increase tension with Washington by blatantly violating harsh U.S. sanctions against the Islamic Republic nor to upset its balancing of relations with Iran’s regional rival, Saudi Arabia.


The pipeline, which would cater to the energy, economic, and security needs of all participants, maybe on the backburner for now, but geo-politicking in the Middle East and South Asia is likely to spur a renewed Pakistani, Iranian, and Turkish push for the project.


Driving a potential push is shifting sands that raise the specter of geopolitical realignment.


They include a rift between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia over the lack of Gulf support for Islamabad in its conflict with India over Kashmir; calls for India to align itself with the Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led alliance against Turkey, Qatar and Iran; and the ambitions of Turkey, which is embroiled in multiple conflicts in the Mediterranean, to position itself as an energy transit hub.


The pipeline was first touted in 2015 in anticipation of the lifting or easing of U.S. and U.N. sanctions against Iran as a result of an international agreement that curbed the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

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Funded by China, construction that was slated to incorporate an already partially built link between Iran and Pakistan was to be carried out by a subsidiary of the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation.The U.S. withdrawal in 2018 from the nuclear agreement and reimposition of sanctions put the pipeline project on ice, with neither Pakistan nor China wanting to be in violation of U.S. law.
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