If the United States is no longer rigorously enforcing sanctions, then Iran’s glut of deeply-discounted oil represents an attractive and ready source, and China can groom the Islamic Republic to function as its gas station with impunity.
Following on the heels of the fraught encounter with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in Anchorage last weekend, one of The People’s Republic of China’s top diplomats, Yang Wi, is on the move again—this time to Tehran. Yang’s travel schedule is hardly an accident; it is only the first of what are sure to be a host of unintended consequences that will dog the new Biden administration in the wake of their first direct engagement with the PRC.
The meetings in Iran will no doubt be much more convivial and productive than the Anchorage engagement as Beijing and Tehran can do a great deal of business if the United States is disinterested. Despite protestations from the Biden administration before Anchorage that the United States would continue to enforce sanctions, it is becoming clear—a testy news conference notwithstanding—that Beijing has concluded there is not going to be any meaningful repercussions to a more overt commercial relationship between China and the Islamic Republic. There is no indication that Iran was even on the agenda in Anchorage unless in relation to the Biden administration’s priority: new negotiations regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), on which the Special Envoy for Iran, Rob Malley, had already engaged Chinese counterparts.