WASHINGTON - Amid current tensions between Washington and Tehran, Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the forthcoming Eurasian Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting June 9-10 in Qingdao, China.
Analysts say Rouhani’s presence at the SCO conference will send a message that China is ready to fill the void left after the U.S. withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal earlier this month.
Xi supported the 2015 Iran nuclear accord, which Trump had called deeply flawed before withdrawing America from the deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
China sees opportunity
Hassan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistan-based expert on international affairs, told VOA that China could use this opportunity to expand its influence and grow its business in Iran, filling a void left by the U.S. It could be an important step for China to grow its presence in the Middle East, he added.
Walter Andersen, former chief of the U.S. State Department’s South Asia Division in the Office of Analysis for the Near East and South Asia, told VOA that Iran is not a member of the SCO. He said Rouhani was likely attending the summit because of tense relations between Tehran and Washington.
Andersen added that China should be careful before announcing any new trade-related policy with Iran as the U.S. has said that any company dealing with Iran would be subject to sanctions as well.
Topics of discussion at the upcoming SCO summit are to include terrorism, separatism, extremism and cybersecurity breaches.
Iran nuclear deal
Analysts say Rouhani’s presence in the conference might lead to a discussion of the Iran nuclear deal.
Rizvi said the SCO is emerging as a regional platform and envisions itself as an autonomous world body, but one that does not seek confrontation with the U.S.
The two main players of the bloc, China and Russia, could ask other countries, such as Pakistan, India and Iran, to look toward Beijing and Moscow rather than the West.
“It (SCO) would try to balance the American influence in the region, South Asia, Central Asia and parts of Middle East,” Andersen said.
Depending on the summit declaration, U.S.-China relations could be affected, Rizvi said. But he added both sides have huge economic stakes in the region, so it is likely they would continue working together.
Andersen said Chinese and Iranian leaders would want better relations, “but President Rouhani represents a government that is very religious-oriented and that could get in the way of developing a much closer relationship with communist China.”
The seven member SCO was launched in 2001 to combat Islamic extremism and other regional security issues. Apart from China and Russia, its founding members include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan joined in 2017, and Iran is the next aspirant.