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Iran’s Raisi visit to China, high on optics but falls short on immediate deals

The first visit in 20 years for an Iranian president to China was big on optics but short on deliverables.
President Xi Jinping held talks with President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran on his state visit to China on Feb. 14, 2023.

When President Ebrahim Raisi departed for his landmark visit to China last Tuesday, the first in 20 years for an Iranian president, he stood in front of a large map of Iran with the words “Persian Gulf” written in English and Persian marking the body of water south of Iran’s borders.

For Iran watchers, the message was clear. Just two months prior, China's President Xi Jinping and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council signed a joint statement calling for a “peaceful resolution” between Iran and the United Arab Emirates of three islands — Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb, Abu Musa — in the Persian Gulf currently in control of Iran. The statement clearly irked Iranian authorities, which subsequently summoned the Chinese envoy, a very rare rebuke of an ally Iran is currently leaning toward as it pivots east. Raisi was signaling — both domestically and to Chinese officials — that whatever necessities the country has pushed forward with the eastern pivot, there are issues that are non-negotiable for the Islamic Republic.  

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