Making inroads into Iran has become a priority for both China and India, with both nations seeking to expand influence in their respective regions. Located at a critical juncture, Iran links Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East, and its abundant resources provide a significant amount of energy to China and India. These factors have always influenced Tehran’s relationships with Beijing and Delhi, which have always fallen somewhere in between transactional and strategic. While the Sino-Indian relationship has been fraught with various challenges, the manner in which the two nations manage their differences in Iran—employing a mix of cooperation and competition—sheds light into their relative power and underlies the changing nature of their relations. Unlike traditional, binary inter-state strategic competition, the China-India rivalry in post-sanctions Iran likely will evolve into a long-term coexistence indicative of what may lie ahead for their strategic relationship in other, non-neighboring countries.
India’s economic footprint in Iran centers around Delhi’s geopolitical ambitions to improve regional connectivity, strengthen energy security and gain access to European markets. The key piece of Delhi’s strategy is the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC), a joint venture spearheaded by India, Russia and Iran to boost infrastructure connectivity from Russia through Iran to the Indian Ocean. When completed, it will allow easy access to energy resources in landlocked Central Asia—much faster than the current route via the Suez Canal—and create trade corridors linking India to European countries via Russia that completely and strategically bypass Pakistan. To that end, India’s investment in Iran rests on the modernization and expansion of the port of Chabahar, the closest, vital access point to the Indian Ocean for Iran and a prospective terminus of the planned INSTC. The potential of an Indian-backed Iranian Chabahar port challenging the Chinese-backed Pakistani port of Gwadar, just 90 miles away, is—both symbolically and practically—indicative of the rising China-India geo-economic rivalry in the region.
Read the full piece here on The National Interest.
Image: Wikimedia Commons