Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi is set to embark on a three-day visit to China on Tuesday, in what will be the first state visit by an Iranian leader to the country in almost two decades, reports Anadolu Agency.
The high-profile visit, at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, will test the relationship between Tehran and Beijing after a diplomatic row over a joint statement by China and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in December.
At a weekly press conference in Tehran on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said the visit shows the two sides have the “highest political will” to enhance ties.
He said important issues of common interest will figure in discussions between Iranian and Chinese officials, with a focus on the 25-year strategic agreement.
“Extensive economic cooperation” between the two countries is a key goal behind the visit, Raisi’s deputy chief of staff, Mohammad Jamshidi, told the state TV on Sunday night.
He said the two sides have “advanced mechanisms” for implementing the long-term strategic agreement, adding that its finalisation will be “followed up during (Raisi’s) visit۔”
The $400-billion agreement was signed between Tehran and Beijing on March 27, 2021, by then-Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his Chinese counterpart Wang Li in Tehran.
According to observers, the comprehensive pact, which still awaits full implementation, will pave the way for Iran’s participation in China’s ambitious infrastructure project, the Belt and Road initiative.
China continues to be Iran’s largest business partner, according to the state news agency IRNA, with cooperation mostly in the areas of energy, transit, agriculture, trade and investment.
The foreign ministers of the two countries in a phone conversation on Friday emphasised the importance of boosting bilateral ties, especially in the economic field.
The visit, however, comes under the shadow of recent controversy related to the GCC-China statement in December, during Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia, which sparked an outcry in Tehran.
The statement called on Iran to “ensure the peaceful nature” of its nuclear program, and “respect for the principles of good-neighborliness and non-interference in the internal affairs of states.”
It also backed the UAE’s demand for the “resolution of the dispute” over the three Persian Gulf islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb, and Abu Musa, riling up Tehran.
In response, Iran’s foreign minister at the time said the Islamic Republic “will not allow any country” to disrespect its territorial integrity, in a message directed at Beijing.
Raisi’s first visit to Beijing will be an attempt to bury the hatchet, according to analysts. He met his Chinese counterpart last time on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan, when Iran became the alliance’s full member, with China’s support.
Apart from bilateral ties, regional issues including the Ukraine war, Afghanistan and regional security are also likely to figure in discussions between the two sides.