With Iran supporting the revival of the Great Silk Road that once connected East Asia with Europe, Sputnik asked Moscow-based Oriental-affairs expert Vladimir Sazhin to about the role Tehran will play in this major geopolitical project.
“Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, confirmed Tehran’s backing for the Beijing-proposed New Silk Road project and welcomed China’s growing economic might,” Sazhin said.
He added that the implementation of the project the Chinese call the “Silk Road of the 21st century” would expand Beijing’s economic and political clout to the giant area stretching from the Pacific Ocean all the way to the British Isles.
The New Silk Road has two parts – the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt and the oceangoing Maritime Silk Road. The land-based project includes countries situated along the original Silk Road through Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, and calls for greater integration with the hopes of developing a cohesive economic zone.
The complimentary Maritime Silk Road Initiative expands the project through several contiguous bodies of water, including the South China Sea, South Pacific Ocean, and Indian Ocean as a means to blunt US inroads into Chinese regional economic hegemony.
The $150 billion project is scheduled for completion somewhere between 2020 and 2025 and China has already announced the planned construction of the Urumchi-Tehran leg of the railway which could eventually reach the Turkish border.
The New Silk Road is an entirely pragmatic undertaking aimed at making Asian mineral riches available to Chinese investors and build a shortcut for Chinese exports to Europe. This would also bring China up to par with the United States as a global political player through the creation of a “belt” of loyalist states in Asia cooperating in logistics, energy, construction and culture.
“Iran, with its advanced infrastructure, is a busy land and maritime crossroads connecting North with South and East with West. That’s why it is viewed by China as a country capable of playing a key role in the New Silk Road project,” Vladimir Sazhin he said, adding that Iran too was interested and agreed to invest $6 billion by 2022.
When addressing at a meeting of Silk Road Cities’ mayors in Qazvin earlier this month, Velayati said that Iran would play a key role in the project and that its Bender-Abbas and Chabakhar seaports were major sea and overland transport hubs seen by China as an “ideal instrument” for achieving its goals.
“Iran and China have consistently been building up their economic, industrial and cultural cooperation, bringing their trade turnover to $52 billion in 2014 from just $12 billion in 1997. Tehran’s participation in the New Silk Road project will bring the two countries even closer together,” Sazhin added.
This doesn’t mean, however, that Iran is going to ignore its integration into other regional associations. In an interview with Sputnik, Mohsen Shariati Niya, a senior university fellow in Tehran, said that Iran considered its participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Eurasian Economic Forum and the revival of the Great Silk Road as equally important.
“Iran is trying to take part in multilateral unions and is fully aware of the need to cooperate with all countries, including those in Asia,” Dr. Niya said. He added that Tehran’s interest in the New Silk Way project was five-pronged and included cooperation in the field of free trade, coordination of the countries’ regional policies and consolidation of their infrastructures and industrial potential, as well as financial and cultural integration. “Iran’s main priority in all these projects is closer cooperation with Russia, China and India,” he emphasized.