China and Iran recently made waves after entering a 25-year deal that deepened economic and military ties between the two countries. Now, according to OilPrce.com, the two countries are entering a new phase of the deal where China will help set up surveillance and military infrastructure near the Iranian port of Chabahar. In effect, China is exporting its infamous social credit system to Iran.
From a big picture perspective, China views Iran as a geopolitical satellite that will play a crucial role in the country’s vaunted ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative. The mass surveillance program is expected to be rolled out during the second week of November.
The Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei already agreed to these plans back in July, per Iranian sources.
“The plan is for nearly 10 million extra CCTV [closed-circuit television] cameras to be placed in Iran’s seven most populous cities, to begin with, plus another five million or so pinhole surveillance cameras to be placed at the same time in another 21 cities, with all of these being directly linked in to China’s main state surveillance and monitoring systems,” an Iranian source revealed. “This will enable the full integration of Iran into the next generation of China’s algorithmic surveillance system that allows for the targeting of behavior down to the level of the individual by combining these inputs with already-stored local, national, and regional records on each citizen, together with their virtual data footprints,” the source said. “At the same time as this, China will start to trial its own heavily-censored version of the internet via the Great Firewall of China [that prohibits foreign internet sites], in Iran, and to begin the broad roll-out of Mandarin as a key foreign language to be learned in school, initially alongside English, but then to replace English,” one of the Iranian sources noted. “By the end of this process, these seven cities in Iran will be among the top 25 most surveilled cities in the world,” he emphasized.
The economic integration between Iran and China via technology is part of a strategic economic cooperation deal that both parties agreed to in 2016. Beijing has plans to set up factories and other business centers that operate as extensions of current businesses in China. These businesses would use the same production lines, machinery, and technology — all under the management of Chinese staff who have presided over similar production lines back in China. “It will be exactly like a factory has been picked up from the middle of China by a giant hand and then placed into Iran, just like Apple operates in China or Chinese firms operate in various African countries,” one of the Iranian sources confirmed.
Additionally, Iran’s Vice President, Eshaq Jahangiri, along with other members of the Iranian government recently announced a set of new infrastructure deals between the two countries. Jahangiri unveiled a joint venture with China to provide electricity to a railway linking the capital of Tehran to the northeastern city of Mashhad. On top of that, Jahangiri announced that there would be plans to set up a Tehran-Qom-Isfahan high-speed train line and extend the railway to northwestern Iran through the city of Tabriz.
With the end of the arms embargo on Iran fast approaching (October 18), China will be exploiting this loosening of arms restrictions to establish its military footprint in Iran. This is part of the “China-Iran Integrated Defense Strategy” in the 25-year-deal that the two countries signed on to back in July.
Simon Watkins of OilPrice.com highlighted the extent of defense cooperation between Iran and China, as well as Russia:
The top priority in these preparations will be ensuring that the military hardware and personnel that China, and Russia, are set to deploy as from the second week of November, are not vulnerable to attack. This equally applies to the oil and gas resources upon which Chinese and Russian firms are still working, despite the U.S. sanctions on Iran, under the guise of standalone contracts. Such efforts would encompass each of the three key EW areas – electronic support (including early warning of enemy weapons use) plus electronic attack (including jamming systems) plus electronic protection (including of enemy jamming), although in the Chinese system, unlike in the traditional Western model, cyber and electronic warfare have been merged into a single discipline.
More specifically, Iran will be host to a range of technology, equipment, and systems coming from both China and Russia, as part of a three-pronged usage strategy for Iran that includes – in addition to the monitoring, surveillance of the workforce – proactive intelligence-gathering capabilities, and an extensive defensive apparatus, as part of, in particular, Russia’s standard anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) operational approach in these conditions. Included in the hardware of the military package, according to the Iran sources, will be the highly-regarded Russian S-400 anti-missile air defense system and the Krasukha-2 and -4 systems that proved successful in Syria. This equipment will function alongside the new dual-use civilian/military centers across Iran, for the air force and naval assets.
“In the same way that the Russian military Khmeimim Air Base near Latakia functions alongside the civilian Bassel Al-Assad International Airport in Syria, sharing many facilities, so many of the existing Iranian airports that are designated for this dual-use will be extended to accommodate warplanes from China, and to a lesser degree, Russia,” one of the Iranian sources observed.
“This process will begin with purpose-built dual-use facilities next to the existing airports at Hamedan, Bandar Abbas, Chabahar, and Abadan,” he continued.
Furthermore, Chinese and Russian military vessels can now have access to dual-use facilities at Iran’s main ports such as Chabahar, Bandar-e-Bushehr, and Bandar Abbas. Chinese companies helped build these ports.
Starting in the second week of November, China has plans to build one of the largest intelligence centers in the world in Chatbahar.
“It will have a staff of nearly 1,000, comprising top Chinese intelligence and communications experts, plus some Russians to support their equipment and technology in the field, with a very small number of Iranians chosen from the top ranks of the IRGC in training, and will have a near-5,000 kilometer radius range,” he stated. “This will allow the station to intercept, monitor, and neutralize the C4ISR [Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance] systems used by NATO members and associate members, including U.S.-friendly countries in the region, most notably, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel,” he continued.
Watkins explained the significance of this move to build an intelligence facility:
As such, the Chabahar facility will allow Beijing to extend its reach in monitoring and disrupting the communications of its perceived enemies across an area ranging from the edge of Austria in the West (including all the former Yugoslav states, Greece, and Turkey), to Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya in the south, and back to the East across all of Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Thailand. The Chabahar facility will also be connected into Russia’s intelligence gathering stations in and around its core military bases in Syria – the naval facility in Tartus, and the Khmeimim Air Base near Latakia – which, in turn, would allow it to be easily be tied in to Russia’s Southern Joint Strategic Command 19th EW Brigade (Rassvet) near Rostov-on-Don, which links into the corollary Chinese systems.
It’s safe to say that U.S. foreign policy is creating unintended consequences. Thanks to its overreach and zealous campaigns to bring regime change everywhere, the U.S has pushed countries like Iran into Russia and China’s geopolitical orbit.
The world is no longer unipolar and now the U.S. will now be met with resistance anytime it tries to overstep its bounds on foreign policy. Given this new foreign policy dynamic, policymakers would be wise to exercise restraint.