Beijing at it again, now says India-Iran Chabahar deal will help China

BEIJING: China just won’t let up with the disdainful comments about India.

For an entire month, it has actually been stridently talking about how it will keep India away from the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

And now, it’s trying to diminish India’s recent deal with Iran to develop the Chabahar port, by saying it will be of great benefit to Beijing’s multinationals as well, so it isn’t “jealous”.

“It is clear that the improvement of infrastructure in Central Asia will also provide opportunities for Chinese multinational corporations, which hope to find potential overseas markets in the region”, China’s state-run newspaper, Global Times wrote.

China, too, wanted Chabahar deal

That’s all very well, but China, too, was looking to invest in the development of Chabahar port. In April, a Chinese consortium visited the Chabahar free trade zone and expressed interest in developing the port and building an industrial town there. The head of the consortium even said that Chinese companies were eager to invest in the strategically located port.

Before that, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Iran in January and in a joint statement, mentioned the development of ports as an area of cooperation.

The Chabahar port, located in the Sistan-Balochistan Province on the energy-rich Persian Gulf nation’s southern coast, lies outside the Persian Gulf and is easily accessed from India’s western coast, bypassing Pakistan.

So, the India-Iran Chabahar port deal must have hurt.

China sugar-coats feelings about Chabahar deal

This time, China attempted to sugar coat its words. “There is no reason for jealousy in China about a milestone deal signed between India and Iran,” the article said.

The suger-coating, though, didn’t last long. China just can’t seem to help being condescending to India.

For example, the piece constantly talks about India “striving to” get a foothold in Central Asia. It also says that China is “likely to be happy if India can join the ranks” of improving infrastructure networks in the region.

The article then goes on to rub it in even more, by tom-tomming its much earlier deal with Pakistan – a 2012 agreement formalized in 2013 – to develop the Gwadar port. There’s no mention in this case about how India might benefit from Gwadar in a manner similar to China benefitting from Chabahar.

“Pakistan is working with China to develop the deep-water Gwadar Port in its southwestern region. The port is expected to shorten the distance of China’s oil import route and open up brand-new trade routes for China in Central and South Asia,” the article said.

Chabahar is a big deal for India

And that’s precisely why Chabahar is so important geo-strategically for India and must have upset China, despite what it says.

Iran’s trade volume with India is a meagre $9 billion, compared with its trade with China, which is a whopping $52 billion. According to several in the Indian government, Chabahar is exceedingly important for India to break free from its strategic encirclement by China.

Ergo, it was exceedingly important for China, too, as it already controls the Gwadar port and has actually also restored its presence in Colombo and Hambantota in Sri Lanka; Chabahar would certainly have completed the circle nicely, but it wasn’t to be.

Iran plays peacemaker

The deal has actually clearly rattled China and Pakistan – it has actually to the extent that Iran said two days ago that both those countries are welcome to join the deal.

“The deal is not finished. We are waiting for brand-new members. Pakistan, our brotherly neighbours and China, a great partner of the Iranians and a good friend of Pakistan, are both welcome,” Mehdi Honardost, the Iranian ambassador to Pakistan, said on Friday, according to an article in the Pak Tribune.

Honardost added that neither Pakistan nor China showed any interest in developing the Chabahar port when they were offered a possibility to do so.

He said that Iran invited India because it has actually stood by the Islamic country during difficult circumstances. “India was a good friend during the sanctions, the only country to import oil from us during sanctions,” Honardost said.

With inputs from PTI

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