CSAG Strategy Paper: Prospects and Complexities of China-Iran Relations, Implications for the US, and Regional & Global Repercussions

20 May  2024



China-Iran relations have steadily evolved and expanded in the domains of geopolitics, economics, and diplomacy since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The recent agreements and partnerships between the two countries, reflected in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as well as the 25-year Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) will pave the way for long-term strategic cooperation between the two countries.

Economically, both countries have a strong interest in developing their energy resources and have collaborated on oil and gas projects. China has also invested in infrastructure projects in Iran, including highways, bridges, ports, and telecommunications networks.

Politically, both countries have a history of challenging the United States and the West, and they see their partnership as a way to counterbalance American influence in the region. They also share a commitment to preserving their respective political systems, Iran as an Islamic Republic and China as a Communist state.

Geopolitically, the strategic partnership between China and Iran has the potential to alter the balance of power in the region. China is playing an increasingly influential role in the Middle East and Iran is strengthening its ties with a major global power.

In terms of security, both countries are concerned about instability in the Middle East, and they see their partnership as a way to maintain regional stability and address security threats. Iran has the potential to increase China’s influence in the Middle East, not only in economic but also in political and military aspects.

Although they have shared interests, there have also been periods of disagreement and tension between China and Iran, particularly with respect to the pace and scope of their economic and political cooperation. Nevertheless, the relationship between China and Iran is likely to continue to play an important role in shaping the geopolitical environment in the region and beyond.


Key Points:

  • The China-Iran relationship is rooted in limited pragmatic cooperation. However, in recent years, it has evolved into a partnership that is more explicitly opposed to the international order led by the US.
  • Considering that China also has to balance the relations between Israel-Iran and Saudi Arabia-Iran, it is unlikely that China will form a military alliance with Iran in the near future.
  • Although the partnership between China and Iran has the potential to alter the balance of power in the region, China’s actions in the region are not always damaging to U.S. interests.
  • Instead of spending finite resources on a potentially unachievable objective of attempting to “push” China out of the region, the US might try to lessen the drawbacks of China’s presence and rebalance its own efforts in these fields.
  • The China-Iran “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership,” Iran’s participation as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the military exercises they have conducted make one thing clear: strategic competition with China will not be limited to the Indo-Pacific.


Read the complete paper here.

View other USCENTCOM Combined Strategic Analysis Group (CSAG) papers here.


The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of a number of international officers within the Combined Strategic Analysis Group (CSAG) and do not necessarily reflect the views of United States Central Command, not of the nations represented within the CSAG or any other governmental agency.