Last week, China and Iran agreed to create a joint commission to further military cooperation, making more public the Islamic Republic’s relationship with a country that has long supplied it with arms. Patrick Megahan and Behnam Taleblu write:
China has . . . equipped Iran with surface-to-air missiles, fighters, fast attack craft, and ballistic-missile equipment. Key among these technologies are guidance systems for Iran’s missiles, which [make up] the largest arsenal in the Middle East. China has even served as a transit point for North Korean missile technology en route to Iran.
Reports on the [specifics of the agreement] have thus far been vague, revealing only a stated interest in combatting terrorism and a promise to hold joint military drills. Still, the increasingly public nature of their cooperation should not come as a surprise. Both Iran and China . . . hope to supplant Washington as the preeminent military power of their respective regions. Moreover, Iran is now eyeing potential purchases for when a UN-mandated arms ban expires in 2020—or possibly earlier, per last summer’s nuclear deal. Admittedly, China is not the only country positioning itself to cash in on Iranian arms purchases. Over the last two years, Russia has stepped up its relationship with Tehran [as well]. . . .
In an era when U.S. military resources are already strained globally, agreements like this between Iran and China make it harder for Washington to defend its partners and deter aggression around the world. As a new administration prepares to take office, U.S. policy makers must prepare for the likelihood that an Iran no longer under arms embargo will capitalize on its . . . partnership with China.