Iran to Anchor China’s Global One Belt, One Road Ambitions?

Irshad Salim — Tehran could become a key player in Beijing’s multibillion-dollar One Belt, One Road initiative to resurrect the ancient Silk Road with massive international land and sea trade and transit investments.

Ground transportation infrastructure flanking Iran’s east and west border as a result of Chinese investment in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asian states, in addition to access points at the Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the Caspian Sea, combine to make Iran “the centerpiece,” of the massive project, Axios reported Wednesday.

“In the same way that Britain ruled its 19th century empire through a far-flung navy, and the US has done so through its trade deals and its own big naval ships, Beijing is preparing for the day years from now when it may be the premier global power,” the Virginia-based news agency said.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Jon Alterman said OBOR was envisioned as a mechanism “to secure China from a [potential] American-led blockade” against the fast-growing economy. Furthermore, Alterman suggested that Beijing views a strategic partnership with Iran as a “great hedge against American hegemony.”

To Tehran’s west, railroads will link Turkey and Iran. From there, Turkey will serve as the “spoke” for traded goods to funnel into Europe. On the other side of the compass dial, ground transportation routes will connect Tehran with Central Asian countries, Afghanistan and western China.

The $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which was jump-started by China and is said to be on a fast-track mode, is the flagship of its OBOR initiative. CPEC’s infrastructure will enable China’s entry into all these regions much to the delight of Pakistan which is expected reap humongous revenues for years to come — notwithstanding its very close defense and security relationship with Pakistan.

President Xi Jingping has said the corridor could see trade developing through Pakistan in the range of $550 – $600 billion in few years to come.

According to several independent studies, Pakistan with the CPEC in place will undoubtedly become the center of economic gravity of the wider region — “much to the discomfort of some regional players,” but the tyranny of geopolitics is giving way to ecstasy of opportunities,” said several Pakistani analysts.

Chinese think tanks say the OBOR is not about geopolitics but geoeconomics and regional connectivity. Several influential western think tanks take this narrative with caution.

No matter what the debates and narrative including counter-narratives surrounding OBOR of which the CPEC is the first and most vital spoke, “it will be built at all costs,” the then Pakistani army chief Raheel Sharif had said.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson on Friday said, “China stands ready to work with Pakistan to continue jointly building the Belt and Road and build a community of shared future, which serves the fundamental interests of the two countries and peoples and promotes peace and development of the region and beyond,” adding, “the all-weather friendship between China and Pakistan has withstood the test of times.”

The Chinese FM spokesperson was reacting to a question posed by a foreign journalist at a press conference in Beijing on disqualification of prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the ongoing work on the humongous corridor being carried out by both the countries workforce in different regions of Pakistan, particularly in Gwadar, newly emerging port city in Balochistan on the Arabian Sea.

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