Contextual Content

Iran/China and the New Silk Road

After 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, the Chinese leadership was more than ready to counteract the US advancement in Eurasia – and turn it on its head. In the second part of this report, Pepe Escobar analyzes what’s at stake at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and what really matters for emerging global power China and regional power Iran: the Asian Energy Security Grid and the re-emergence of the fabled Silk Road, now as a vehicle for energy security as well as trade.

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Story Transcript

PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST, TRNN: Does it make sense to talk about a Beijing-Tehran access? Apparently no, if we know that Iran’s application to become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the SCO, was turned down at the 2008 summit in Tajikistan; apparently yes, when we see how the military dictatorship of the mullah-tariat in Tehran and the collective leadership in Beijing have dealt with their recent turmoil—the Green Revolution in Tehran and the Uighur riots in Urumqi, in Xinjiang. Iran-China relationship [inaudible] that’s a relationship like a game of Chinese boxes. Look at their history: turbulent, glorious, terrifying, spanning millennia. But when one sees an Islamic Republic which is in fact a militarized theocracy and a popular republic that is in fact a capitalist oligarchy, things are not what they seem to be, no matter what recently happened in Iran, consolidating the power of the axis Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei, President Ahmadinejad, and the Revolutionary Guards. The relationship will continue to develop within the framework of a clash between the US hyperpower, declining as it may be, and the aspiring Chinese big power allied with the re-emergent Russian big power. Iran and China, they are all about the new Silk Road in Eurasia—routes, roads, rather. Iran has never been colonized, but it was a privileged theater of the original great game between the British Empire and Russia in the 19th century, and then the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union in the 20th century. The Islamic revolution may at first imply Khomeini’s official policy of neither East nor West. In fact, Iran dreams of bridging East and West. And that brings us to Iran’s key inescapable geopolitical role at the epicenter of Eurasia. What’s this new Silk Road? It’s above all an energy corridor, the Asian Energy Security Grid, as it is known from Iran to Pakistan, India, Russia, and China, in which the Caspian Sea is an essential node linked to the Persian Gulf from where oil is to be transported to Asia, all over Asia. And as far as gas is concerned, the name of the game, once again, is Pipeline-istan, as in the recently agreed Iran-Pakistan IP pipeline and the interconnection between Iran and Turkmenistan, whose end result is a direct link between Iran and China. And then there’s the hyper-ambitious so-called North-South corridor. That’s a projected road and rail link between Europe and India through Russia, Central Asia, Iran, and the Persian Gulf. The ultimate new Silk Road dream: a natural land route between China and the Persian Gulf via Central Asia—Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan. Shiite Iran, encircled by Sunnis, is now a de facto theocratic dictatorship which still desperately needs to break out from its isolation. Talk about a turbulent environment. What do they have, the Iranians? Well, they have Iraq still under US occupation to the west, they have the ultra-unstable Caucasus in the northwest, they have the fragile Central Asian ‘Stans in the northeast, and they have the basket cases Afghanistan and Pakistan—the Pentagon’s "AfPak"— to the east. Not to mention the nuclear neighborhood—Israel, Russia, China, Pakistan, and India. Technologic advancement for Iran, it means fully mastering a civilian nuclear program, with an added benefit: turning it into a sanctuary, via the possibility of building a nuclear device of course. Officially, Iran has declared, ad infinitum, it has no intention to possess an Islamic bomb. Beijing understands Iran’s delicate position and supports its rights to peaceful use of nuclear energy. And Beijing would love Tehran to adopt the plan proposed by Russia, the US, Western Europe, and, of course, China itself. China is always carefully evaluating its vital energy national security interest. So the last thing Beijing wants is for Washington to clench its fist towards Iran again.

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