China seeks stronger military ties with Iran

Beijing extends invitation after two countries partake in unprecedented military exercise in Persian Gulf

Illustrative: An Iranian navy vessel launches a missile during a drill in the Sea of Oman, in January 2012. (AP/ISNA, Amir Kholousi)
Illustrative: An Iranian navy vessel launches a missile during a drill in the Sea of Oman, in January 2012. (AP/ISNA, Amir Kholousi)

China’s defense minister said Thursday the world’s most populous country is “ready to enhance” military ties with Iran.

Iran is under severe international sanctions over its nuclear program, which much of the world believes is intended to develop nuclear weapons.

Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan was meeting in Beijing with Iranian Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, commander of Iran’s navy. Wanquan told his Iranian counterpart the two countries have had “good cooperation on mutual visits, personnel training and other fields in recent years,” China’s official Xinhua news agency reported, according to Reuters.

Sayyari said Iran was “ready to enhance bilateral exchanges to push forward cooperation between the two armed forces, especially in naval cooperation.”

According to the Chinese military’s People’s Liberation Army Daily, the Iranian admiral visited a number of Chinese submarines and warships and “listened to an introduction on equipment ability and weapons systems.”

Last month, China sent a missile destroyer and missile frigate to take part in a military exercise with the Iranian navy. The exercise was described by Iranian admiral Amir Hossein Azad as an effort to establish “peace, stability, tranquility and multilateral and mutual cooperation” between the two countries.

The five-day exercise was seen in the West as a signal from Beijing of a new willingness to flex its growing naval power. The exercise marked the first time that Chinese naval vessels sailed in the Persian Gulf, a body of water critical to the world’s oil supply.

Iran has in the past threatened to block the Straits of Hormuz, the narrowest point in the Persian Gulf, if it was attack by the United States or Israel.

Approximately 20% of the world’s petroleum passes through the straits.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Beijing in May, meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and other senior officials.

China is a member of the P5+1, the group of six world powers negotiating with Iran over its nuclear capabilities.

While Beijing announces its intention to expand ties with Tehran, it has also sought burgeoning commercial ties with Israel.

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