Last month, the Chinese minister of defense, together with senior military figures, paid a visit to Tehran, where they met with their Iranian counterparts, as well as with the Iranian president. Tuvia Gering and Jason M. Brodsky doubt the talks will result in a grand Sino-Iranian alliance, but they nonetheless expect increased collaboration between the two countries. For many years, they note, Beijing has evaded or violated embargoes to sell arms to the Islamic Republic, and there’s reason to expect more of the same:
In March 2010, [for instance], it was reported that Iran started manufacturing the Chinese-designed Nasr-1 anti-ship missile. Just four years prior, during the 2006 Lebanon War, four Israeli navy soldiers were killed by an Iranian derivative of the Chinese C-802 subsonic anti-ship cruise missile launched by the Iranian proxy, Hizballah. . . .
With the possibility of the nuclear deal being resurrected, enabling Tehran to gain greater access to funds, the arms trade could become a growing concern for Washington and its allies. Some analysts have ruled out the likelihood of China becoming a significant arms exporter to Iran in the post-embargo period, but as the Lebanon War and recent bombings illustrate, Chinese technology in the wrong hands can be destructive.
Military support is also measured in ways other than tangible weapons. For one, cyberwarfare is an integral component of Iran’s arsenal, and Beijing pledged to expand cyber cooperation during Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian’s January visit to Wuxi. China is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to cyberattacks and military and industrial espionage. Countries throughout the region have documented high-profile cases involving Chinese hackers, including a widespread campaign of cyber espionage against Israel, the constant targeting of its defense industry, and the inadvertent sabotage of a medical center’s computer system.