Sino-Iranian relations remain firm despite leadership tragedy

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Wang Yi

21st May 2024 – (Beijing) After the helicopter crash that claimed the life of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and other top officials, China and Iran have reaffirmed their commitment to bolster strategic ties. This resolve was articulated during diplomatic engagements following the catastrophe, underscoring the robust partnership between the two nations.

During a recent meeting in Astana at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed his deepest condolences to Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mahdi Safari, who attended in lieu of his late colleagues. Wang emphasized that China’s strategic cooperation with Iran would persist irrespective of changes in the political landscape, aiming to enhance regional and global peace.

In response, Safari conveyed gratitude for China’s unwavering support and stressed that Iran’s policy directions, both domestic and international, will remain constant. He reaffirmed Iran’s commitment to strengthening ties across political, economic, and cultural spheres and to fostering improved relations with neighbouring states.

Further consolidating these sentiments, China’s Executive Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Ma Zhaoxu and Iran’s acting Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri engaged in a phone conversation, where Ma extended heartfelt condolences. Bagheri acknowledged China’s immediate support post-tragedy and noted the profound strategic partnership and mutual support characterizing the bilateral relationship.

Despite the potential internal political shifts following Raisi’s untimely demise, Chinese Foreign Affairs experts have expressed confidence that this incident will not disrupt the foundational ties between China and Iran. Zhu Yongbiao, director of the School of Politics and International Relations at Lanzhou University, indicated that the overall framework of bilateral relations remains stable and robust. Zhu also highlighted Iran’s continued anti-American sentiment, which reinforces the need for pragmatic cooperation with China.

The dialogue extends beyond bilateral to multilateral platforms such as the SCO, enriching avenues for cooperation and consensus on regional issues. This multi-layered engagement underscores the strategic depth of the China-Iran alliance.

Following the tragedy, Iran’s First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber has assumed the role of interim president. Meanwhile, preparations are underway for Iran’s 14th presidential election, scheduled for 28th June, as reported by the official news agency IRNA.

Despite the immediate challenges posed by the leadership vacuum, analysts like Liu Zhongmin from the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University believe that Iran’s domestic and foreign policy trajectories are unlikely to see a fundamental shift. Liu noted Raisi’s contributions to enhancing Iran’s regional and international stature, including its accession to the SCO and the BRICS cooperation mechanism.