A month ago a Chinese destroyer and frigate visited the Iranian naval base at Bandar Abbas. This was the first time that Chinese naval ships have visited Iran.
“The voyage of the Chinese army’s fleet of warships for the first time in the Persian Gulf waters is aimed at joint preparation of Iran and China for establishing peace, stability, tranquility and multilateral and mutual cooperation,” said Iranian Navy Adm. Amir Hossein Azad.
The visit of the two warships, in the area conducting anti-piracy operations, was in preparation of conducting joint search and rescue (SAR) operations with the Iranian navy. After the exercise, the two ships returned to Asia.
“This unprecedented visit and the participation of Chinese warships in naval SAR exercises with the [Iranian Navy] in the Persian Gulf could be an effort to further improve interoperability between the two navies,” commented Jane’s Defence Weekly.
Although China has shared military technology with Iran for decades, there has been little overt contact between the two powers. A joint SAR exercise may seem minor; the U.S. Navy has conducted more operations with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) than Iran has, but it illustrates a troubling change in the nature of the support that China sends to Iran.
“Beijing and Tehran share common views on several issues of international concern and China might have identified Iran as a potentially more stable pivot into the region, given how its decade-long investments in Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq and Syria have suddenly become uncertain in the current political climate,” continued Jane’s.
As the tensions between the United States and Iran moderate with the shared concern for ISIS, the politicos in China may be concerned about Iran and the U.S. relations improving to the detriment of Chinese influence. The potential loss of support in the region could leave China without allies in the Middle East.
If the U.S. can come to a reasonable deal with Iran about their nuclear weapons program, or make it beneficial enough for the Iranian government to abandon their research, it could shift the power in the region, again. China is probably more concerned about that than the U.S. is. Iran could be one potential ally among many for us. For China they are the only one in the region.
With the continued conflicts in the area, having a less hostile Iran beside us, as opposed to having an actively aggressive country competing with us in the area, can only be considered a good thing. Bringing Iran out from under the influence of China and into our sphere of influence would open up economic markets and create a better understanding of the West within Iran. Iran is one of China’s most important markets.
“It shows most of all that the Chinese want to keep their lucrative business relations with Iran,” said Saeed Laylaz, an Iranian economist about the ship visit. “Not that they are ready to defend us.”
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