China Seizing the Iran Moment

Following the brief tumult surrounding Trump’s decision to recertify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal last week, Iran has reassumed its place on the back burner of U.S. policy concerns.

That Iran is only of occasional interest to this administration is significant, because a lot is happening there while everyone’s attention is focused elsewhere. See, for example, New York Times Iran Tehran bureau chief Thomas Erdbrink’s latest on China’s growing influence in Iran:

In addition to factory construction and entrepreneurship, China is investing heavily in Iranian infrastructure, including modernization of Iranian rail lines, deepwater port construction, and road revitalization. The rail projects are especially significant and involve standardizing track gauges to match those used in China (and if you don’t think track gauges matter, go take a look back at the history of Hitler’s failed invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II). Ultimately, Iran lies at the center of a Chinese plan to build one long supply line running from China all the way to Europe: a new Silk Road.

This is just further evidence that the United States is missing its Iran moment. While Trump and his cabinet members blabber about regime change and search for an excuse to scuttle the nuclear deal, China is busy filling the economic void left by the United States’s retreat from re-engagement. But there may be more at stake here. A lot more. If China’s plan to create unified supply lines running across Asia and the Middle East into Europe succeeds, the United States’s stands to lose much more than just the opportunity to invest in Iran.

Author: Jonathan Leslie

PhD candidate at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.

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