November 17, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 9037

Chinese Middle East Scholar Fan Hongda: Iran Should Understand That Cooperation With China Is A 'Win-Win' For Both Countries

November 17, 2020
Iran, China | Special Dispatch No. 9037

The popular Iranian newspaper Hamshahri ran two commentaries by Professor Fan Hongda (范鸿达) of the Middle East Institute of Shanghai Foreign Studies University (SISU). The commentaries, analyzing Sino-Iranian cooperation, were published side by side on September 14, 2020. 


In his first commentary, titled "Understanding Sino-Iranian Relations from Chinese Philosophy," Fan stressed that the U.S. has long been a top priority in China's diplomatic relations. However, given the deterioration of relations between the U.S. – "the first world power" – and China – "the second world power"– China should look to expand political and economic cooperation with Iran. Fan stated that China and Iran have potential for cooperation in many areas, but that China does not yet have an objective understanding of Iran, while Iran still does not fully trust China.

As an example of Iran's mistrust towards China, Fan mentioned that rumors being circulated by other countries about the "Iran-China 25 Year Comprehensive Partnership"[1] that was announced June 23, 2020 by Iran had made Iranians apprehensive about entering into a comprehensive partnership with China. While the exact rumors are not mentioned, in his article Fan rebuts alleged speculation that China is seeking to deploy troops in Iran.

It is worth noting that in 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran, and the two issued a "Joint Statement on Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between I.R. [Islamic Republic of] Iran and P.R. China."[2] Paragraph 6 of the statement established that the two countries were to sign a Comprehensive Cooperation Agreement: "In view of the determination of both sides to expand relations between the two countries and the complementariness of their economic potentials as well as existence of numerous areas of joint cooperation such as energy, infrastructure, industry and technology, both sides agree to put consultations and discussions aimed at concluding a bilateral 25-year Comprehensive Cooperation Agreement on their agendas."

Although the Iranian government announced the Iran-China 25 Year Comprehensive Partnership in June, so far it has been approved only by Rouhani's cabinet, not by Iran's Majlis. On November 5, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh stated: "Negotiations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and China under the 25-year agreement are continuing diligently and are not tied to elections of any country, especially the United States of America."[3]

However, prominent Iranian figures criticized the partnership for not providing guarantees for Iran.[4] For example, former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called it suspicious and accused the Iranian government of selling out Iran's land and resources to China. "Does the country belong to you, that you can give away what's in the people's pocket?" Ahmadinejad asked.[5]

In his first commentary, Fan attempted to reassure Iranian readers of China's good intentions, stating that China is friendly to Iran. He stressed: "Unfortunately, these people [i.e. critics of the partnership] have been influenced by rumors [circulated] by hostile countries. To illustrate [this], how can anyone believe that China wants to deploy its troops in Iran? Independence is one of the greatest achievements of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and it will never allow foreign troops to be deployed there. Besides, China has never even considered stationing troops in Iran."

Fan stated in his second commentary, "China and Iran Must Cooperate with Each Other In Order to Develop Better Relations," that he opposes the notion that China should not develop closer relations with Iran because of potential U.S. pressure. Arguing that Sino-Iranian developments would have no impact on U.S. hostility to China, he added that China should not worry about Arab countries' displeasure at improved China-Iran relations either. "These overcautious concerns have no advantage whatsoever for the 'second most powerful country in the world,'" Fan stressed.

Concerning Iran, Fan wrote that Tehran should recognize that cooperation with China offers advantages that cooperation with Europe and the U.S. cannot; he added that the concept of "win-win cooperation" is fundamental to Chinese philosophy. However, the Chinese term shuangying (双赢), a direct translation of the English "win-win," emerged in the early 2000s in sales and diplomacy, following China's WTO accession.[6] It then became a main Chinese Communist Party theme, especially in the context of China's massive Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.[7]

Fan concluded by reminding Iran that ancient China and Persia had used the Silk Road to maintain friendly relations. This is another theme in Chinese diplomacy; on official visits, Xi Jinping and Chinese top diplomats stress China's "5,000 years of history and unbroken civilization"[8] to contrast with their interlocutors, whether they are Europeans, Egyptians, Jews in Israel, Persians, or Arabs – but do not bother bringing it up with the U.S., since the latter has been a nation for less than 250 years.

Below are Fan's two commentaries, published September 14, 2020 by Hamashahri:[9]

Professor Fan Hongda (Source:

"Understanding Sino-Iranian Relations From Chinese Philosophy"

In his first September 14, 2020 article in Hamshahri, Fan wrote:

"At present, both China and Iran are faced with an important task of national development, and the development of both countries is complementary. It is therefore clear that improving Sino-Iranian relations is in the interests of both sides.

Iran In Chinese Diplomacy

"Many countries believe that China is the second most powerful country in the world, and the U.S. also believes that China is its main strategic opponent. For the U.S., the main difference between China and the U.S. is that 'the first world power' and 'the second world power' are rivals for world leadership. Disputes and conflicts will become a distinctive feature of China-U.S. relations, from now into the foreseeable future. Even if the president of the U.S. is replaced, the situation is not poised to change fundamentally. The U.S. has been a top priority in China's diplomatic relations for a long time. This may have affected the development of bilateral or multilateral relations between China and other countries. At present, however, the U.S. has stepped up its hostile behavior towards China, and the negative impact of China-U.S. relations on the development of bilateral or multilateral relations with other countries has gradually dwindled.

"On the other hand, Iran has always been a country of major [significance]  in West Asia (Middle East)  and the Middle East is of great strategic importance to China. Moreover, China and Iran have a potential for cooperation in many areas; therefore, China has the motivation and the conditions to deepen bilateral relations with Iran. It appears that despite the long-term sanctions imposed on Iran by the U.S., the Sino-Iranian relationship has remained relatively good over the last four decades, revealing China's position towards Iran. However, in some cases, it has faced a number of challenges and obstacles for its expansion. For example, China lacks sufficient objective understanding of Iran, and China's diplomacy may still have room for improvement. These problems and obstacles impact the development of better Sino-Iranian ties.

"To understand Iran in depth, China should understand that it has the capacity to develop and rise, and should also be aware of Iran's fundamental role in the political structure of the Middle East. When China formulates its foreign policy towards Iran, it must fully understand Iran's complexities. If China does not have a comprehensive understanding of Iran's internal affairs, and a broad perspective, it will find it difficult formulate an effective Iran policy.

China In Iranian Diplomacy

"Over the past four decades, the international sanctions imposed on Iran by the U.S. have seriously obstructed Iran's development. Donald Trump's policy of 'maximum pressure' on Iran has created more problems. Moreover, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle Eastern and Arab countries see Iran as a threat, and are united against it. At this point, Iran urgently needs to expand its diplomatic space.

"Today, China has become the second most powerful country in the world. Additionally, it has no historic conflict with Iran. In the last 40 years, China and Iran have established good bilateral relations, and China can become an important option for Iran's foreign policy.

"On June 23, 2020, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei announced the approval of a 25-year comprehensive cooperation plan between China and Iran. The announcement immediately sparked widespread debate within the country, with some in favor and others opposed. The U.S., Israel, and other countries hostile to Iran have also paid close attention to the '25-year Comprehensive Strategic Partnership' and have floated a lot of rumors about it. These rumors have made Iranians apprehensive about entering into a comprehensive partnership with China. Some Iranian [citizens'] criticism of the '25-year Comprehensive Strategic Partnership' shows that Iran still lacks a favorable and objective understanding of China.

"Unfortunately, these people have been influenced by the rumors [circulated] by hostile countries; to illustrate, how can anyone believe that China wants to deploy its troops in Iran? Independence is one of the greatest achievements of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which will never allow foreign troops to be deployed in Iran. Besides that, China has not even thought of stationing troops in Iran."

Chinese President Xi Jinping with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Tehran.  (Source:, January 23, 2016)

"China And Iran Must Cooperate With Each Other In Order To Develop Better Relations"

In his second September 14, 2020 article in Hamshahri, Fan stated:

"Not only China, but Iran too has a responsibility to improve bilateral relations. Truth be told, however, China and Iran still lack political mutual trust in comprehensive cooperation. Likewise, China and Iran are still under the influence of other countries when it comes to developing bilateral relations. There is a view in China that improving relations with Iran will make the U.S. displeased with China, causing the U.S. to increase the pressure on China.  In the past, U.S. policymakers have viewed China as a greater threat than Iran. It goes without saying that the U.S. will not consider the evolution of Sino-Iranian relations, and the U.S.'s hostility towards China will remain unchanged.

"China also believes that improving Sino-Iranian relations will displease Arab countries in West Asia, and that it should therefore be wary of dealing with Iran. I strongly disagree with this kind of reasoning; these overcautious concerns are of no benefit whatsoever for the 'second most powerful country in the world.' Moreover, they are also detrimental to the development and expansion of China's diplomacy. Not only should Chinese scholars' perceptions be consistent with China's level of development, but the government's policy-making standards should also improve.

"Iran's history has shown that the more diverse its diplomatic relations, the more effective it is in defending its national interests. How is it that Iran can develop friendly relations with European countries and the U.S. at any time but that deeper Sino-Iranian relations are detrimental to Tehran? Moreover, China has an advantage that Europe and the U.S. do not.

"Win-win cooperation is one of Chinese philosophy's most important contributions. China's developing relations with Iran will not prevent Iran from developing relations with other countries. Iran should be aware of this: Cooperation with China brings more opportunities than challenges. In ancient times, China and Persia maintained friendly relations on the Silk Road. The long history of both countries means that they have [both] already developed sufficient political shrewdness."


[1], June 23, 2020.

[2], April 23, 2016.

[3], November 5. 2020.

[4], July 12, 2020.

[5], July 9, 2020.

[6] The term "win-win" has been used in Chinese diplomatic discourse as early as 2006, e.g. a People's Daily article from March 2006 was titled "China's Win-Win Diplomacy Won Appreciation."

[7], June 3, 2019.

[8] "Five thousand years of history and unbroken civilization" is a phrase repeated by Chinese officials who seek to describe China as a country with more history than others. See:, May 29, 2018.

[9] Hamshahri (Iran), September 14, 2020.Chinese version retrieved from, September 17, 2020; Persian version retrieved from, September 24, 2020.     

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