February 21. 2024. 7:40

The Daily

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Iran’s president signs multiple agreements with China on three-day visit

Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi has completed a landmark three-day visit to Beijing after concluding 20 co-operation agreements worth $10 billion (€9.4 billion) in the trade, tourism, agriculture and manufacturing sectors. He was the first Iranian president to visit China in two decades.

Mr Raisi’s objective was to revitalise the 25-year strategic co–operation agreement reached with China in 2021 by his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani.

Impatient over its slow, partial implementation, Mr Raisi stated: “The development of relations between Iran and China has been moving forward, but what has been done is far from what should be done, and to compensate [for] this backwardness, we should take greater steps.”

China is Iran’s chief customer for discounted oil, but Beijing has not invested heavily in Iran, while cheap Chinese goods have flooded Iran, putting small manufacturers out of business.

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On the political front, Chinese president Xi Jinping extended verbal support to Iran “in safeguarding [its] national sovereignty” while resisting US and Western sanctions and pressures over its nuclear programme.

Mr Xi said China would continue to back efforts to rescue the 2015 agreement for lifting sanctions on Iran in exchange for limiting Iran’s nuclear research. US ex-president Donald Trump exited the deal in 2018 and his successor Joe Biden has not re-entered it despite 18 months of negotiations.

On the economic front, Mr Xi said he looked forward to importing Iran’s oil and agricultural produce, though he did not commit to specific projects.

The two presidents met first in 2022 on the sidelines of a summit of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), founded in 1996 as an economic, security and defence bloc by China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

On the eve of Mr Raisi’s visit to Beijing, Iran completed entry accession requirements for the SCO which has admitted India, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan, thereby embracing half of humanity. Since sanctions have so far stalled Tehran’s application, Iran’s entry would be a triumph for Mr Raisi at a time when Tehran has been castigated for its brutal crackdown on protests.

Unrest began in September 2022 when Mahsa Amini (22) died in morality police custody after her arrest for allegedly failing to wear her headscarf in accordance with government standards. Unrest spread to all of Iran’s provinces and major cities and towns. Iranian rights agencies reported 527 deaths and 20,000 arrests before protests were largely suppressed at year’s end.

Early this month Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, announced the release of tens of thousands of prisoners, including some involved in protests, on condition they did not harm police or challenge the mandate of the clerical government. Its harsh treatment of protesters has been criticised by senior clerics from the holy city of Qom as well as by reformists living under house arrest since 2009 when Iranians took to the streets to protest against the result of a presidential election.