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Raisi in China in first such visit by Iran leader in 20 years

February 14, 2023 at 12:41 pm

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (L) being welcomed by Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) with an official ceremony in Beijing, China on February 14, 2023. [Presidency of Iran – Anadolu Agency]

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi today launches a three-day visit to China, in what is the first state visit by an Iranian leader to the country in almost two decades.

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 yesterday, 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.

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“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 27 March 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.

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.

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