Is China-Iran Axis A Myth Or Gamechanger?

On 27 March Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Iranian countarpart Mohammad Javad Zarif signed in Tehran a Comprehensive Strategic Cooperation Agreement between the two countries, expressing a desire to increase cooperation and trade relations over the next 25 years.

This Agreement has been described as a massive change in Sino-Iranian relations that, according to media reports, may see China invest about USD 400 billion in Iran. The question arises- is this a myth or a real game-changer in regional relations?

The document signed between the two sides is an expanded version of a statement made during the visit of Chinese Leader Xi Jinping in Tehran back in 2016, pledging bilateral cooperation on political, cultural, energy, trade, security and defense issues over 25 years.

At that time, the two countries signed 17 agreements and also agreed to increase bilateral trade more than ten-fold to USD 600 billion in the next decade, as China pursues its BRI (One Belt One Road Initiative).

The BRI is an ambitious network of road, rail and port routes that will connect China to Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. It should be noted, however, that China’s pledge to increase investment tenfold has little to show five years later.

An 18-page draft of the agreement published by The New York Times last summer listed nearly 100 projects to be funded by Chinese investments and are expected to be a part of Xi’s ambitious BRI, extending China’s strategic influence across Eurasia.

These 100 projects include airports, high-speed railways and subways, that will improve the lives of most Iranian citizens. In return, Iran is to provide regular and heavily discounted oil supplies to China for 25 years.

Despite a lot of press reports, there is no mention in the Strategic Cooperation Agreement about a specific amount to be invested by China in Iran. The document is by and large a list of areas in which China will engage with Iran during the next 25 years.

Zhao Lijian, the Spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, replying to a question about the agreement, said: “The plan focuses on tapping the potentials in economic and cultural cooperation and charting the course for long-term cooperation. It neither includes any quantitative, specific contracts and goals nor targets any third party, and will provide a general framework for China-Iran cooperation going forward.”

The Strategic Cooperation Agreement between China and Iran could change the assumptions of the West about Chinese ambitions in the Middle East region and may lead to a weakening of US influence in this volatile region of the world. Iran, which has been severely affected by US sanctions and international isolation, sees China as throwing it a lifeline and views the agreement as the beginning of mutually beneficial relations.

Some analysts describe the Strategic Cooperation Agreement as “destabilizing” and “a direct threat to US goals in the Middle East”, while others started calling China and Iran “the new Axis of Evil.”

The fact that China is a world power that can afford to defy the US and can ignore sanctions imposed by the US Administration is something that worries President Joe Biden. According to US officials, the agreement could also make way for Chinese military bases in Iran, fundamentally changing the region’s geopolitics.

Some press reports claim that the new US Administration is trying to rally allies against China, something which Secretary of State Antony Blinken has described as the world’s “greatest geopolitical test.”

In the strategic realm, the proposed draft talks about deepening military cooperation, with “joint training and exercises”, “joint research and weapons development” as well as intelligence sharing.

In an interview with Al-Arabiya, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stressed that “China is consistent in opposing the unreasonable unilateral sanctions imposed on Iran by other countries, because they violate the international law and are an affront to human conscience”.

Wang added that China stands ready to work with Iran and other countries to jointly oppose the acts of bullying by powers, uphold international equity and justice and defend the basic norms of international relations.

Dr William Figueroa, a specialist in Sino-Iranian relations, points out that while China remains Iran’s top oil importer, “Chinese firms have not increased investment, imports, or exports at the exponential levels pledged in 2016, and are not likely to do so in 2021 either. The deal is unlikely to fundamentally threaten the balance of power in the Middle East. China tends to choose stable relations with geostrategic advantages over volatile ones likely to spark conflict. For all its propaganda, China, like Iran, is more interested in its immediate geopolitical goals than a revolution.”

Several experts on Sino-Iranian relations, like Jonathan Fulton, senior fellow at Atlantic Council, describe the Agreement as “a list of things Iran and China hope to do, under perfect conditions”, while Lucille Greer and Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, said that the agreement is “not as alarming as it sounds.”

In conclusion, it can be said that relations between China and Iran are going to improve due to the agreement is not a myth. It will give the Iranian side some breathing space, helping it break somewhat the diplomatic isolation imposed by the US.

At the same time exaggerated concern that the agreement will change the geopolitical map of the region are most probably unfounded.

(The views and ideas expressed in the article are solely of the author. – ANI)

Pakistan, A State Run By Parasite Capitalism

The already bad reputation caused by corruption in Pakistan took a turn for the worse with the publication of an investigative report by Ahmed Noorani. The report revealed that Lt. Gen (Retd) Asim Saleem Bajwa’s family was in possession of assets worth millions in Pakistan and abroad.

Asim Bajwa is the chairman of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as well as the special assistant for information to Prime Minister Imran Khan, a portfolio that carries the protocol of a federal minister.

The report claims that Lt. Gen (r) Bajwa’s brothers, wife and two sons own a business empire, which has set up 99 companies in four countries including a pizza franchise with 133 restaurants worth an estimated USD 39.9 million. The revelation is disastrous for Imran Khan since he is desperately trying to garner international support among foreign investors and encouraging them to bring their capital to Pakistan.

But Pakistan is a state that is dying by a thousand cuts and the most recent cut, the revelations regarding Lt. Gen (r) Asim Bajwa’s assets in foreign lands, seems to have landed right on the jugular vein of Pakistan’s campaign to attract foreign investment. If the top ranking ex-military general turned bureaucrats do not trust their home economy to generate satisfactory profits, then why would one expect a foreigner to do so.

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That corruption is rampant in Pakistan is no more a hidden fact. During Gen Zia Ul Haq’s martial law (1977- 1988), it was common knowledge that one could get their sentence reduced by one year by bribing the military judge with one lakh rupees. The (bribe) monies were paid after the sentence was awarded and during the appeal process. The civil police who would normally escort the prisoner collected money before passing it on to the military judge.

Lashes were bought off the sentence for Rs 15,000 each. Hence there was frenzy among military courts to award long sentences and 10 to 15 lashes to each political activist that was apprehended under the martial law regulations.Today, corruption is rampant in Pakistan Army. A soldier bribes the subedar if he needs to visit his family in the village. From universities to science research labs, to electricity power companies to museums and parks, there is hardly any civil institution that is not headed by an ex-military officer.

It was during the Afghan war (1979-1989) that Pakistan military generals developed a fondness for sleazy money. Foreign aid arriving through western governments and consortiums plus the side business of cultivating and selling heroin brought a qualitative change in the manner Pakistan army business operated. Not only that it developed itself into a business conglomerate but also turned itself into a drug cartel that would supply heroin to the rest of the world.

Although the Pakistan Army’s involvement in the business is as old as the country itself, however, it was during the 1980s that its business empire expanded at a breathtaking rate reaching its zenith during General Musharraf’s tenure (1998-2008). In her book Military INC, Ayesha Saddiqa estimated the military business to be worth more than 10 billion euros in 2007, which was roughly four times the total of direct foreign investment in the same year. She claimed that 100 top military generals had a collective wealth of 3.5 billion euros.

Pakistan Army, Air Force and Navy each own the three largest conglomerates Fauji Foundation, Shaheen and Bahria Foundations. The Army Welfare Trust (established in 1971) runs the country’s largest lenders, the Askari Bank. The military National Logistic Cell (NLC) is Pakistan’s largest shipper and freight transporter. It was reported that on retirement a Maj. General can get 240 acres of prime farmland worth more than half a million pounds as well as an urban real estate plot of land worth 700,000 euros.

The rise of Pakistan Army as a usurper of the market economy has brought her into direct conflict with the local civilian investor and industrialist. It is in this background that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and military generals came to loggerhead on the issue of allocation of billions worth of contracts of the CPEC. The military would not allow the Nawaz Sharif or the parliament to be the sole in charge of this multi-billion-dollar project.

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Hence, they removed him through a controversial general election and brought in a political novice Imran Khan into power. Lt. Gen. (r) Bajwa was made Chairman of CPEC. But the military does not trust Imran Khan either and, therefore, a few months ago they forced him to sack Firdous Ashiq Awan, the special assistant to the Prime minister for information, and replaced her with the same guy (Asim Saleem Bajwa) who is the chairman of the CPEC.

Pakistan’s military has totally lost its credibility in the eyes of the common man and woman in the country. People despise the army and consider the plunder and perks awarded to the army as directly responsible for their sub-standard living conditions and general poverty in the country. The stubbornness, with which the Pakistan Army is stealing the natural resources of the provinces has brought them into direct-armed conflict with Baloch and Sindhi nationalists. Their demand for more autonomy has now converted into a demand for total independence from the federation.

Lack of a profitable small industrial base has led the Pakistan Army deeper into corruption and kickbacks. The recent revelations regarding Lt. Gen. (r) Bajwa do not come as a surprise but as a confirmation of the suspicion, the general public has held for decades about its army that Pakistan military no longer considers Pakistan a productive economy. The only way to generate profit for them is to strip Pakistan of all its natural resources and invest in foreign countries that can promise an uninterrupted flow of revenue.

None other than those who in the first place was supposed to protect it from the enemy is beating blow-by-blow Pakistan to the ground. The inability of a market economy has forced its men in uniform to consume whatever is left of the country’s resources. Hence, failing to become innovative entrepreneurs the Pakistan Army has become a parasite and Pakistan has turned into a state that is run by the rules of parasite capitalism.

The author is a human rights activist from Mirpur in PoK. He currently lives in exile in the UK. (ANI)