Who Wins When U.S.-Iran Tensions Rise? China.

The Sino-Iranian relationship advances Chinese interests — and particularly when Washington tries to turn the screws on Tehran.

China’s leaders may be anxious about the emerging trade war with the United States, but at least something is going their way: U.S. policy toward Iran is furthering their strategic interests.

Of the several “comprehensive strategic partnerships” that Beijing has struck in the Middle East, the Sino-Iranian one is the most comprehensive and the most strategic. China has established similar close ties with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but Iran represents a contrarian’s bet and a vital hedge for China.

One reason the Iranian relationship serves China so well is that it is not a relationship of equals. China is Iran’s largest trading partner, supplying and consuming more than 30 percent of the latter’s imports and exports. The converse is not true at all: Iran represents less than one percent of China’s international trade. Iran needs China, but to China, Iran is expendable.

But part of Iran’s value to China arises because of U.S.-Iranian tensions, and heightened tensions increase that value.

This article was originally published on Defense One.

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Jon B. Alterman
Senior Vice President, Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, and Director, Middle East Program