President of Iran Hassan Rouhani (R) and President of China Xi Jinping (2nd R)make statements after signing of partnership agreement between Iran and China at Sadabad Complex in Tehran, Iran on January 23, 2016.
Securing its economic future, China requires an export market for its manufactured goods, and energy imports. It has to produce goods cheaper than that of its rivals for its own big market. If energy imports face difficulties and the final price becomes more expensive than in other regions, the final price of goods will also increase, in which case China will face a major challenge. Shale oil production in America will lower energy prices for the West, which has a fundamental role in production; sea routes, therefore, might have a higher risk for energy supply in the future.
Indeed, competition has already started in the South China Sea. China is looking for overland routes for energy supply. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in Central Asia provide part of China needs and Russia provides another part of it. Russia takes advantage of this need as a weapon in its foreign policy, which China opposes as it creates uncertainty about healthy flow of energy from Russia. Middle East and Iran are good sources for China. Silk Road could be functional in this regard.
In the conference Silk Road
held in May 2015 in Xinjiang with co-sponsoring the Iran's President Strategic Research Center, they counted on Iran and insisted that the best scenario is to continue the ancient route that goes from Iran to Iraq and Syria. For this purpose, they are waiting for the turmoil in Iraq and the Middle East to get calmed down to pursue their own programs.
The story that the Chinese have not mentioned Iran could refer to the negotiations of Chinese president at a meeting with Iran. Iran has not entered this process by itself, but has acted passively; as the Chinese have said, Iran is waiting to be welcomed by the European Union.
However, during The Twentieth Anniversary of Neutrality of Turkmenistan held in December 2015 in Ashgabat, Georgian president supported the Chinese president's initiative "One Belt, One Road" (OBOR) and is seeking to extend the path outside the territory of Iran in Central Asia, the port of Turkmenbashi, the Caspian Sea, Baku port, Tbilisi and the Black Sea.
Unfortunately, Azerbaijan also supports the idea so the road would not pass through Iran. During the conference of Silk Road universities in Erzurum, in which I had a lecture, Azerbaijani authorities depicted the Silk Road historically as if it had not passed through Iran.
In this regard, it is important to consider two points:
1. There are centers in Iran that are responsible for these affairs and that have the necessary funding and manpower. They should be stimulated and a scheduled program should be performed. No matter how serious we are and how much programmed, they would not do anything and would not implement it. We should publicize this issue and create sensitivity about it.
2. This is the world of competition. Our share from the world trade is less than one percent. We should provide the required political climate for activities in the economic sphere. No doubt Silk Road has many attractions. China's economy has 10 trillion, and we have got 400 billion, of GPD a year. Everyone is trying to win China's participation in this project. China will construct the Silk Road, either land or railway; or, will rebuilt it at its own expense. Foresight and forward planning should be strengthened among the authorities.
NOTE: This article is an excerpt of what the author previously delivered in a virtual meeting in Tehran on July 22, 2016.
Bahram Amirahmadian, an assistant professor at University of Tehran, is the senior fellow at IRAS.
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