To offset the negative balance of its foreign trade with China, Britain began smuggling large quantities of opium into the country in the early nineteenth century, sparking the “First Opium War” and after defeating the Chinese Empire, ended with the Treaty of Nanking in 1842; a document that initiated the series of infamous treaties in Chinese history and introduced the term “unequal treaties” into political culture. In Article 3 of the treaty, the “eternal property right” of Hong Kong Island (fragrant port) was ceded to the United Kingdom. 
Following this treaty, the Chinese Empire signed at least 15 other infamous and strategic treaties with the colonial powers of the West and Japan until 1915, all of which were “unequal treaties.” The empire was destroyed by the Chinese Revolution. China became a republic. The Qing Dynasty became extinct. The two world wars plunged the first half of the twentieth century into the blood of millions, and the Cold War split the world into East and West blocs for decades. But none of these great historical events, from these comings and goings, could damage the legal validity and legitimacy of the Nanking Agreement, which was signed by both parties. That is why the People’s Republic of China, 24 years ago in 1997, could only request the repossession of the “new territories” it had leased to Britain in 1898 for 99 years, not the repatriation of Hong Kong and Kowloon, which had become the “eternal property” of England under the Nanking Treaty. The recapture of these two regions was possible not through legal means, but only through diplomacy. The life of treaties does not end with the life of rulers or even regimes.
February 3, 2021, when Javad Zarif, after the Hague Tribunal judges agreed with the review of the Islamic Republic’s complaint against the United States, called it a “great legal victory”, he was actually spending the legal validity of a document signed in 1955 between the imperial government of Iran and the United States called the Amity Treaty. The 1979 Rebellion and the subsequent religious tyranny were not able to deprive the document of its legal validity.
Therefore, even today, in regard to the “25-year strategic agreement between the Islamic Republic and China” or any other international agreement that this regime concludes with another country, it is naive to think and hope that the regime’s agreements will be invalidated after its overthrow. The other way around. The long-term consequences and historical dimensions of these contracts and agreements should be in the center of attention and research, so that their importance is not diminished, so that stigma is not hidden behind illusions.
However, what has been kept hidden from the public to date is the text and details of the contract. Equally, the speculation and rumor market has been hot since day one. The Islamic Republic avoids using the word “contract” or even “treaty” in this regard and speaks of “document” and sometimes “plan”. Contract in Persian is defined as an evidence in the semantic field of “reliance”. Any document that is agreed upon by two individual or legal parties through the signature of the parties becomes a “contract”; a treaty between the two which is binding in itself. This word play is seen as a way for regime officials to justify secrecy and keep the public unaware of the terms of the 25-year deal with China. The paradox of this game becomes apparent when the regime’s propaganda apparatus in the media, on the one hand, portrays this agreement with titles such as “great victory in politics“, “win-win agreement“, “the cause in changing the balance of power at the global level“, “proof of the nation’s victory over sanctions” and many other such empty-mouthed slogans and on the other hand, in the face of public criticism for not publishing the text of the agreement, it is introduced as a “non-binding” document, the details of which “do not require transparency” – a “no-contract” and a “no-treaty” that does not overshadow national interests and therefore: irrelevant. The reason for this stark contradiction lies in the dual use of propaganda by the Islamic Republic: while for the overseas branch of the regime propaganda network led by Zarif, the 25-year agreement serves as a tool to put pressure on the West to lift sanctions and revive JCPOA, its great strategic and geopolitical importance and role in the region must be described in greater details and exaggerated, too. At the same time, inside Iran, the state media unanimously report, create programs and conduct interviews to show the same agreement as “not a contract”, but a cooperation document, “not an agreement”, but a “comprehensive strategic plan” without any figures, concessions, assignments and commitments, 24/7. In line with this dual propaganda, Farnaz Fassihi wrote a piece in New York Times that US sanctions forced the Islamic Republic to turn to China and sign a 25-year agreement. In this article, she described the deal as the result of Donald Trump administration’s policy of maximum pressure, which will shift the power balance in the region to the detriment of the United States.
The exact opposite of Farnaz Fassihi’s claim is true: On January 23, 2016, when Chinese President Xi Jinping came to Tehran and met with Khamenei, and the 25-year contract was first mentioned in the media, more than six months had passed since signing of JCPOA. The nuclear deal was approved, and a few days had passed since its implementation. The lifting of sanctions and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action were preconditions for a 25-year agreement with China, not the other way around. Until the Islamic Republic was under sanctions and the nuclear deal was finalized, China had no desire to enter into a long-term contract or agreement with the Islamic Republic.
Zarif on the evening of Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in a gathering at the Clubhouse app organized by Azari Jahromi, in which no foreign media reporters, with the exception of Massoud Behnoud, Negar Mortazavi, and Farnaz Fassihi, were allowed to ask questions, confessed. “It was the Chinese who did not respond to us from 2013, when we took office and requested a strategic relationship, until 2015, because the conditions of the previous resolutions did not allow them to do so. Until July 2015, Russia did not extend any official invitation to the great martyr Soleimani to travel to Russia. The first invitation to Martyr Soleimani was in August 2015, a few days after the conclusion of JCPOA.”
JCPOA is the super-project of the regime; a key that unlocks all the system’s locks and paves the way for other strategic agreements with China and Russia.
The “creator” of the 25-year agreement, as Ali Khamenei is referred to in connection with the contract, in 2015, when the Secretary-General of the Chinese Communist Party entered his house, announced his full agreement and support for the treaty. That’s why, no dissenting voice is heard from any organization or official within the government. The day after meeting with the creator, Hassan Rouhani, who hosted Xi Jinping at Saadabad Palace, said: “We are happy that this trip took place at the right historical moment in the post-JCPOA and post-embargo period and we can sign the final document according to the interests of the two countries.”
The 25-year agreement with China was a direct and logical consequence of the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” and the phenomenon of the “post-JCPOA” and “post-embargo” eras. On the same day, Rouhani announced in Saadabad that the level of trade between the two countries would increase to $600 billion over the next 10 years. This meant more than 10 times the amount of trade between the two countries. What actually happened was something else. From $51.8 billion in 2014, trade between the two countries fell to $31.2 billion in 2016, and the sharp downward trend continued steadily. Five years after that $600 billion target was set Majid Reza Hariri, President of the Iran-China Joint Chamber of Commerce, announced in March 2021 that the volume of Iran-China trade in 2020 was about $16 billion, the lowest in 16 years.
Auction of Iran’s natural resources and national interests through unequal treaties in a situation where the regime, as Prince Reza Pahlavi describes it, “today is at the height of financial and economic crisis, at the height of political legitimacy crisis and at the height of global isolation,” in addition to “JCPOA nullification” and the imposition of regime restraining sanctions within the framework of the US “maximum pressure” policy, which has deprived the Velayat-e-Faqih (Supreme Leader) regime of the possibility of “selling Iran”, have several other obstacles.
In the third obstacle, to defeat the dragon, Esfandiar had to first enter the dragon**. A correct understanding of the approach and behavior of the People’s Republic of China towards the type and level of its relations with the Islamic Republic, requires change of perspective and addressing the events and situation from the dragon’s perspective. Let’s go back to Monday, March 22, 2021; on the day the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China announced that he would have a six-day trip visiting Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the Islamic Republic, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain from March 24 to March 30, at the invitation of his counterparts. A glance at the list of the six countries gives a clear picture of the limited nature of China’s foreign relations with these countries and makes Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s six-day visit look like a check-in on two battle fronts. Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain on one front and the Islamic Republic on the opposite side. However, all of these countries have signed the China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Countries on the Iranian opposition front are far more important to China. A comparative look at the trade volume of these countries with China shows this fact: in the first 9 months of 2020, Iran’s share of the total $3,296 billion in China trade was only $11.19 billion, i.e., a share of 0.34 percent. Even Angola, with $12.14 billion, had more trade with China than Iran during the same period. Saudi Arabia with $49.2 billion, Oman with $13.4 billion and the United Arab Emirates with $23.8 billion were more important trading partners for the People’s Republic of China.  In addition to these figures, it should be noted that no trade activities or strategic relations of any of these countries with other countries has been affected by sanctions, like Iran. Although China seeks to expand its influence in the region, it has always been a very cautious investor, putting the political and economic stability of its economic partners, in addition to their relations with each other, at the center of its geopolitical considerations. Iran is a crisis-ridden country with no political or economic stability, a supporter of terrorism in the region, engaged in proxy wars with a large number of countries in the region, under the most severe economic, human rights, political and diplomatic sanctions, is not considered a normal economic partner or even a normal regime to China. Israel, one of the few countries that has not even signed the Belt and Road Initiative, has become a very valuable and important partner for China in recent years. The trade volume of this small and sparsely populated country with China in the same period of the first nine months of 2020 amounted to $12.66 billion. In July 2018, Israel signed a similar length contract, for 25 years, with the Shanghai Port International Group, which handed over control of about 73 hectares of the Haifa port to the Chinese group. And if the New York Times report is true, it was Israel that was able to persuade China in 2010 to pass UN Security Council Resolution 1929 against the Islamic Republic. At that time, China demonstrated its interests and relations with countries and its most important economic partners in the region supersedes the continuation of relations with the Islamic Republic. But this has never meant severing China’s relations with Iran or, in principle, any country with an “unusual regime” such as the Islamic Republic. The People’s Republic of China has developed a very specific and colonial model of economic and strategic contracts for abnormal and unstable regimes, for isolated, crisis-ridden, dictatorial governments, and on the verge of collapse:
“Absent Contracts” Model
In 2017, the world owed more than $5 trillion to China. This figure accounted for about 6% of world GDP. China was and still is the largest government creditor in the world. And if we take into account direct investment and hostile takeovers in this area, the People’s Republic of China keeps 8% of the world’s gross domestic product abroad.
Therefore, Beijing has achieved a far more important position in foreign investment and lending than the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. All Chinese overseas investments are made by state-owned banks.  More than 50% of Chinese government loans flow to developing or newly industrialized countries.  However, the Kiel Institute for the World Economy in a study published in 2019 on the amount and indicators of Chinese capital exports reviewed 5,000 loans to 152 countries. It had to note in the very beginning of the article that in addition to the huge volume of investment, the most prominent feature of contracts and Chinese investments in developing countries is “non-transparency”: 50% of these investments and credit agreements were not reported to the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank; this has created a huge bubble of “hidden debts” in the global economy. In the same year 2019, if one of the researchers in this study was asked if he had seen one of the loans and capital lending agreements between China and a developing country and read the text, the answer was no. Now, however, the answer to this question is yes. On March 31, 2021, an international team of researchers from four academic and research institutes successfully published the results of a systematic study of Chinese investments and loans to other countries for the first time.  The study was based on 100 contracts between Chinese state-owned banks and the governments of developed countries between 2000 and 2020 and were collected by researchers at the AidData Institute of William and Mary College from the government websites of debtor countries. These contracts were out of public reach on government websites. By comparing these 100 Chinese contracts with 142 other non-Chinese contracts, the researchers achieved very valuable scientific, documented, undeniable, and disturbing results, of which we mention only one in this article. Researchers’ studies have shown that many of these 100 contracts contain articles that oblige the contracting country to keep the text and terms of the contract secret: a “confidential contract”! And in some cases the layer of secrecy goes to a deeper level and acquires from the signatory government a legal obligation to conceal even the “existence” and reality of the contract: the “absent contract”! The researchers found that all of the contracts investigated from 2014 onwards contained one of the two layers of secrecy. 
In fact, the People’s Republic of China is forcing contracting governments to hide their obligations and debts from their citizens’ eyes, who are the principal repayors of these loans and financial obligations. Moreover, the repayment of contracts whose terms and conditions and figures are made to remain secret creates “black” and opaque sections in the budgeting of governments and their financial systems. This, in turn, leads to the spread of corruption in the country’s economy and many other destructive consequences in the countries that are parties to the contract with China. Result: China systematically exports corruption to other countries and replicates and institutionalizes the structure of corruption in government systems.
After the 25-year contract signing with China in Tehran, criticism over non-publication of the contract text increased. Reacting to the criticism, government spokesman, Ali Rabiee, stressed that China was unwilling to release the text of the agreement. Javad Zarif and other officials of the Islamic Republic confirmed and repeated the same reason on other occasions. These remarks were just a hint of a very bitter truth from the depths of the regime’s submission and dependence. Because the regime preferred the will of a foreign power over the will of Iranian civil society, which was to see the provisions of the agreement and study the text of the 25-year agreement with China. The 25-year agreement with China falls into the category of “secret agreements” in the layers of secrecy, and the Islamic Republic officials, by acknowledging the “unwillingness of the Chinese side to publish the document”, reveal only part of the truth. The hidden part of the truth is that – and this fact is now undeniable after the disclosure and review of another 100 Chinese contracts by researchers at four prestigious international scientific institutions – one of the articles in the 25-year contract with China is “non-publication of the contract” and its secrecy. The agents of the “creator” have given a legal form to their commitment to keep the content of the agreement secret and not publish them by signing it. The statement that “the Chinese side does not want to” creates the illusion that this unwillingness is outside the text of the treaty, while “secrecy of the content” is part of the agreement and a commitment that the Islamic Republic has agreed on against the national interest and will, in favor of and by demand of a foreign country. If comprehensive sanctions are lifted to revive the JCPOA, the 25-year agreement with China will provide a legal framework under which hundreds of other “absent agreements” will be signed; contracts that people will feel their existence with their bone and flesh only through destructive effects of them on the market and society, and not out of awareness: “treacherous contracts.”
Translation of this article by Sahar.
**: Esfandiar is a legendary character in Ferdowsi’s epic Shahnameh. In one of his stories, he had to pass 7 obstacles to save his 2 sisters from Chinese Empire. In the third obstacle, he had to fight a dragon. He disguised himself inside a box and was eaten by the dragon. He emerged victorious from inside the dragon.
1- Treaty Of Nanking, Article 3:
It being obviously necessary and desirable, that British Subjects should have some Port whereat they may careen and refit their Ships, when required, and Keep Stores for that purpose, His Majesty the Emperor of China cedes to Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain, &c., the Island of Hong-Kong, to be possessed in perpetuity by Her Britannic Majesty, Her Heirs and Successors, and to be governed by such Laws and Regulations as Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain, &c., shall see fit to direct.
2- Chinese Customs: China’s trade volume with Saudi Arabia & Israel is more than Iran.
3- China Development Bank (CDB), Bank of China (BoC), Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), China Eximbank …
4- China’s Overseas Lending, Sebastian Horn, Carmen Reinhart and Christoph Trebesch
5- AidData, William and Mary, Center for Global Development, Kiel Institute for the World Economy, Peterson Institute for International Economics
6- How China Lends: A Rare Look into 100 Debt Contracts with Foreign Government, Anna Gelpern, Sebastian Horn, Scott Morris, Brad Parks, Christoph Trebesch