Iran’s offer to Pakistan and China to Participate in Iran’s Chahbahar Port Project
According to news item, captioned ‘Iran invites Pakistan to participate in Chahbahar project’, published in the Dawn on 13 March 2018, “Iranian Foreign Minister Dr Javad Zarif on Monday invited Pakistan to participate in Chahbahar seaport project and development of its link with Gwadar Port as he sought to allay concerns here over Indian involvement in the Iranian port. “We offered to participate in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). We have also offered Pakistan and China to participate in Chahbahar”. He made these remarks while addressing, in the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Pakistan-Iran diplomatic relations.
The report by Dawn also mentioned, “Pakistan had always been concerned about Indian involvement in Chahbahar port. These concerns got amplified after Iran last month signed a lease agreement with India, which would give operational control of the port to the latter.”
In that context the Iranian Foreign Minister tried to allay Pakistan’s concern about the increasing influence in Iran of India – the arch rival of Pakistan. However according to the Dawn report, “He likened Iran’s relations with India to Pakistan’s ties with Saudi Arabia. “Our relations with India, just like Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia, are not against Pakistan as we understand Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia are not against Iran,” the crafty and skilful diplomat said trying to remind about his country’s concerns”. (1).
That mention of Iranian Foreign Minister, about Iran’s offer to China and Pakistan to participate in Chahbahar Port project, were also reported by many other media outlets, including the Indian media.
However, this reported aspect has again been picked up. This time Bloomberg, headquartered in New York, has published it under the caption, ‘How a Remote Iranian Port Could Heighten China-India Tensions’ (2).
While highlighting many aspects related to the possibility of China or / and Pakistan accepting Iran’s offer to participate in the Chahbahar Port project, Bloomberg also quotes the remarks of Mr. Ebrahim Jamili, head of the Iran-India Chamber of Commerce in Tehran. In that context Mr Ebrahim Jamili mentioned, “Still, for Iran the port’s development is important. It will be a vital trading hub in the Gulf of Oman. The priority is with the Indians — they’ve been involved and came forward first,” Jamili said. “But if another investor comes along and is interested in Chabahar, there is certainly enough space and opportunity for them and for their investment”.
So far there has been no official response on this offer by the government of China. However, following related aspects appear clear:-
- Due to its deep economic problems, any attempt by Pakistan to participate with investment in Chahbahar Port project is least likely.
- India has scored a major success by getting the right of operational control of Chahbahar Port by making Iran to sign a lease agreement to that effect.
- However, it is still to be seen whether India could actually continue to finance the development of this project as per the aspiration of Iran. That aspect is somewhat dicey – there have been delays in that regard.
- On the other hand China obviously can afford much better financially.
- Besides that, China already has a China-Iran Rail Link connecting Zhejiang province just south of Shanghai on China’s eastern coast with Tehran (see map below).
(Map – Courtesy Google Search) (3)
The first cargo train had already moved on this rail route as reported on 16 February 2016 by The Diplomat. That journey took 14 days – 30 days less than the maritime route from the Chinese Shanghai port to the Iranian port of Bander Abbas. (4).
- Even if China does not directly participate in the development of the Chahbahar Port, and if Iran comes under financial constraints (specially keeping in view the ‘heat’ on the Iran Nuclear Deal issue), the possibility of Iran-China agreement for Chinese investment at least in the development of related infrastructure cannot be ruled out. Such an eventuality is certain to work against the current Indian geopolitical endeavour to ‘encircle’ Pakistan from the west also, after the successful Indian endeavour in Afghanistan.
It is therefore worth keeping a tag of any news appearing in that context.