As an NPT member state, Iran will continue to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Chinese companies are already a player in the redesigning of the Arak heavy water reactor, and will be involved in producing isotopes for medical purposes and desalinating seawater.
Investment in mining is also a certainty. According to the World Mining Congress (WMC), China and Iran were the 1st and 10th largest minerals producers in the world in 2013. Iran holds more than 7% of the world's proven mineral reserves, but only 20% of these have been developed. Foreigners are now allowed to operate Iranian mines for 25 years -- and China will be on it.
One Belt, One Road is mostly about high-speed rail. So no wonder upgrading and expanding Iran's railway network is a key plank in the Joint Statement on Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between Iran and China.
Of course progress along the New Silk Road(s) will face numerous pitfalls.
No one yet knows the full details about the Iran-China strategic partnership; Tehran won't be content with being just a transit route for China's exports; it aims at being a key trans-Eurasian partner. China is a WTO member; Iran is not a full member yet. China is at the center of multiple trade agreements while Iran is a partner in only a few.
Cooperation with the Central Asian stans may be quite a feat -- as some, like Uzbekistan, are quite jealous of their economic practices. And a multi-vector, complex relationship between Tehran and Ankara is still a work in progress; Turkey after all physically connects Asia to Europe.
A geostrategic master class
Geopolitically, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei unambiguously set the tone as he met Xi. China, said the Supreme Leader, is a "trustworthy" country; the establishment of a "25-year strategic relation is completely correct and wise"; and last but not least, "The Islamic Republic of Iran will never forget China's cooperation during the time of sanctions."
Subtle but firm, Ayatollah Khamenei could not but refer to the stark difference between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the absolutely crucial -- for China -- area of energy security: "Iran is the only independent country in the region that can be trusted in the area of energy because unlike many regional countries, the energy policy of Iran is not influenced by any non-Iranian factor."
The bottom line is that for Beijing, a strategic partnership with Iran is a matter of vital national security. Moreover, geostrategically, Beijing sees Iran as an essential hub, in Southwest Asia and Eurasia for that matter, counterpunching Washington's much-advertised "pivot" and US naval hegemony. That implies Beijing's full support for a powerful Iran in the arc spanning the Persian Gulf to the Caspian; all these maritime and land routes -- New Silk Road-wise -- are vitally important to China.
There is no fulfillment of the New Silk Road vision without a comprehensive Iran-China strategic partnership. Xi and the Beijing leadership not only solidified it; in a sweeping move, they sort of upgraded what some Iranian analysts define as Khamenei's defensive realism theory of international relations to a de facto protection ring of China's geostrategic interests.
A master class. And it's all going according to (Beijing's) plan. Next step is Iran as a full SCO member. Eurasian integration, here we come.
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