The leaking of a draft of an extensive agreement for economic and strategic cooperation between Beijing and Tehran—two fiercely anti-American regimes—has caused serious concern in Washington. Jerusalem is also alarmed at the prospect that a regional power dedicated to Israel’s destruction now has the backing of the world’s second-mightiest country. While these worries are undoubtedly justified, argue Amos Yadlin and Ari Heistein, there are limits to how much China can, or will, do for Iran:
Beijing will find it difficult to uphold grandiose promises of investment, and any joint projects that move forward will likely be negotiated under highly unfavorable terms for Iran. In addition, cooperation against the United States has limited potential because neither country can resolve the core challenges that the other faces vis-à-vis Washington. . . . China is unlikely to provide adequate investment to solve Iran’s economic woes, and Iran cannot provide China with the trade and technological advantages to mitigate recent U.S. steps in great-power competition.
The assessment that this leaked draft and a potential Sino-Iranian partnership constitute a major blow to U.S. “maximum pressure” on Iran appears premature. On the contrary, it is entirely conceivable that the document was leaked by Tehran as a desperate response to the partial success of America’s Iran policy. Iran’s dismal economic outlook and the regime’s recent blunders have created intense pressure on the government to present some good news to the public (e.g., Chinese investors lining up to pour money into Iran) in order to demonstrate the regime’s competence and to provide a sense of hope for the future. However, these Iranian “breakthroughs” do not always reflect reality.
Yet in military and strategic terms, the new friendliness between Iran and China has already yielded results:
Intelligence cooperation between the two countries reportedly led to the decimation of the CIA’s collection capabilities. In addition, Chinese assistance with Iran’s missile program has intensified the threat Iran poses to the Middle East. However, Beijing’s assistance to Iran is based on opportunism rather than any particular affinity. Recent reports have revealed China’s role in developing nuclear facilities for Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s arch-rival. . . . Beijing will not forego Saudi oil or trade with Israel and Turkey in order to entangle itself in Iran’s collapsing economy.