Last week an 18 point document was circulated in Iranian media and New York Times also published its article based on this document calling it the ‘proposed agreement’ between Iran and China. According to the document, China will invest 400 US Billion Dollars in 25 years, whereas, Iran will supply oil to China at meager prices during that time.
The proposed agreement also mentions that China will invest in Banking, Telecom, Ports, railways, and military. This comprehensive strategic cooperation will also involve intelligence sharing and military exercises. As interesting as the deal looks it is not a new initiative on China’s end in Iran. China had invested in Iran before but due to American sanctions things had slowed down.
As per various reports, the same deal was brought forward by China in 2016 but under Obama administration, Iran felt a ray of hope when America lifted few sanctions on Iran and a Nuclear Deal was signed with the country due to which Iran hesitated to be a full-fledge partner with China and in the same year signed various projects with India. However, Trump Administration pushed Iran into the arms of China.
As far as the news of dropping India out of the Chabahar-Zahedan railway project is concerned, it turned out to be fake news. Iran has denied that it has dropped India out of its railway project as they had never inked a deal for the project but signed an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding). They will continue to build the railway line themselves due to the backlog (holding/delaying of funds) from India. Iran has been working on the track since 2011 and recently a Russian 5 Billion USD loan boosted and the government claims the project will be completed in 2022 as Iran is pumping 300 million USD into the project from its National Development Fund.
Although India will continue operating the Chabahar Port, the only oceanic port of Iran and a completed Chabahar-Zahedan railway track will still benefit India. China’s presence in Iran will definitely hinder Indian interests in the region and surround India through its presence in various ports. This will also open a gateway for China to enter the game of the Middle East as a stronger player than it was before. China will for the first time in world history be present at one out of the seven choke points of the world (Strait of Hormuz).
The question which remains to be answered, what all this means to Baloch and Balochistan? China’s presence, be it inside Balochistan or the peripheries have never brought good news to Baloch people. Chinese hegemony will grow ever stronger in Iran, and one cannot hope China will not take its chances to tap into the resources of Western Balochistan like Eastern Balochistan.
China controlling the sister port of Gwadar, Chabahar Port, is also not out of the equation in the near future. It’s pertinent to mention both ports are situated on Baloch land. China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative is not limited to the land but it has continued building its Maritime Silk Road by taking over Ports in South Asia, South East Asia, Africa and now knocking at the doors of the Middle East. The more assets built in Balochistan, be it Eastern or Western, more will be the presence of China to protect its interests and the only force that seems to be against China are Balochs and all this bring no good news for the already oppressed nation. In Eastern Balochistan the Baloch Pro-freedom armed organizations like BLA have already been targeting Chinese interests, the sentiments of Baloch nationalism and demand for freedom already exist in western Balochistan. It could well mean the beginning of a new long skirmish between Baloch and China.