Studies

The Iran-China agreement’s devastating impact on the Ahwaz region 

The 25-year cooperation agreement signed by China and Iran on Saturday, 27th March will affect the Ahwaz region more intensively than any other region in Iran due to the concentration of energy and other resource there which China is set to control. The agreement will include coordination between the two regimes in “political, strategic, security and economic” sectors, such as oil, gas, petrochemicals, and minerals. 

For Iran’s regime, the primary purpose of this agreement is to obtain the financial resources necessary to continue with its destructive regional policies, funding terrorism and interfering in the affairs of other states to destabilise countries. The agreement will also give Iran more power to continue its repressive policies against the Ahwazi people and other minorities and dissidents in Iran.

The cooperation agreement between Iran and China could have major strategic, security, economic and environmental effects on the region and the world by giving Iran far greater financial and technological capabilities to threaten the region’s stability. For China, meanwhile, the agreement with Iran’s regime gives it the opportunity to become a truly global power, threatening Western interests in the Middle East and beyond through its “Belt and Road Initiative”. It is the Ahwazi people, however, who will be one of the primary victims of this agreement which is set to further devastate the impoverished region environmentally, economically and demographically.

The Iranian regime’s cruel and destructive policies in Ahwaz have already led to widespread violations of human rights due to the suppression, killing, torture and arrest of Ahwazis, as well as the wilful destruction of the environment, the Ahwazi people’s millennia-old cultural heritage, and the local economy. The policy of “maximum pressure” during the Trump administration did hinder some of the Iranian regime’s more harmful policies towards the Ahwazi people, such as its settlement-building program, but the regime continued its policy of destroying the environment, desertifying the agricultural lands and impoverishing the indigenous Ahwazi people to displace them from their historical territories. The massive new 25-year Sino-Iranian deal will add further insult to injury, providing further funding to enable the regime to continue its racist persecution and ethnocide of the Ahwazi people, with the aim of ethnic cleansing, demographic change and destroying the indigenous people’s heritage and the local economy. Through the deal, Beijing will entirely control the Ahwazi markets and local businesses, and play a significant role in wreaking further devastation on the already reeling Ahwazi environment. This will inevitably increase unemployment and displacement among Ahwazis, with dire consequences for Ahwaz, the region, and the world.

Amongst the areas to be wholly controlled by China under the new agreement are all sectors of the economy in Ahwaz, including the strategic ports, the Strait of Hormuz (Bab al-Salam) and petrochemical extraction and refining work from Ma’shor to Jask. China will also get cheap oil and gas from the Hor Al-Azim marshland to Kharg Island (Khark), as well controlling the mineral resource in all Ahwaz, and build a free zone in Abadan-Muhammarah. Therefore, China will even be able to lease islands and other strategic lands from the regime in order to control Ahwazi freshwater and maritime resources.

China’s new role is set to devastate the already impoverished Ahwaz region, which covers a vast area extending from the Strait of Hormuz to the Iraqi borders that is home to more than 8 million people, meaning the long-suffering indigenous Ahwazis will face further economic catastrophe due to Beijing’s new role in controlling local markets, as well as destroying the environment, on which Iran’s regime has already inflicted massive damage . Ahwaz is rich in resources and contains one of the largest volumes of oil and gas reserves in the world. Despite this bounteous natural wealth, however, Ahwazis live far below the poverty line because of Iran’s policies, with the regime’s new agreement with China set to significantly increase this already dire suffering, as migration, ethnic cleansing, and unemployment threaten Ahwazis’ lives and continuing existence.

Unemployment 

The livelihoods of many Ahwazis are linked to agriculture, poultry and livestock, fishing, and other local industries, such as working in markets or small-scale mining of minerals. This precarious existence is already gravely threatened by natural crises unleashed on the region by the Iranian regime, such as the construction of a massive network of dams and pipelines rerouting most of the region’s water supply to other areas of Iran, leading to mass desertification in Ahwaz, whose massive rivers once irrigated tens of thousands of acres of farmland, leading to Ahwaz being renowned as a regional breadbasket. This has also worsened the seasonal flooding, with the regime adding to this by deliberately opening the sluice gates on its dams to reduce the pressure, with the Ahwazi people drowning in the wet season and parched in the summer when temperatures regularly reach 50o c. and upwards. The environmental disasters caused by the Iranian regime’s policies, along with the regime’s overt anti-Arab racism which means Ahwazis are denied jobs, means most of the region’s indigenous population already suffer from chronic poverty, with many migrating to escape the relentless persecution and injustice. 

The new deal with China will play a major part in increasing the existing terrible suffering of Ahwazis by further destroying both the economic and natural environments. The Chinese presence in the coastal areas in Ahwaz has already caused economic and environmental damage to the Ahwazi people, with already high unemployment rates rising further due to China’s control of the Gulf’s waters, depriving fishermen of their living and failing to compensate by providing any job opportunities for citizens in its economic projects in Ahwaz. China will also destroy local economies through damaging marshlands and rivers.

In recent years, vast fleets of Chinese industrial fishing trawlers have spread widely in the waters of the Arabian Gulf, severely damaging the marine ecosystem. The Chinese trawlers have also devastated the livelihoods of Ahwazi fishermen in Jambron province (Hormuzgan), with expansion of this policy under the new agreement set to increase unemployment, marginalisation, and homelessness among the already impoverished indigenous population of Ahwaz.

The highly destructive Chinese trawler fishing in the waters of the Arabian Gulf is one of the most controversial phenomena causing anger among many in the Ahwazi province of Hormuzgan due to the livelihoods of many citizens being directly linked to fishing. The vast Chinese trawlers which dredge the bottom of the Gulf catch at least 500 kilograms of fish per hour and a maximum of two tons of aquatic species. Aside from destroying the marine environment, the Chinese trawlers have become the leading cause of unemployment for thousands of fishermen in Hormuzgan. 40% of the inhabitants of the eastern counties of Hormuzgan province make a living by fishing. However, many of these people are facing unemployment since the Chinese came to the region.

Ahwazi people, already hard-hit by the Iranian regime’s discriminatory employment policies, will also suffer even higher rates of unemployment due to China’s increased activity in the oil and gas sectors. Under the new agreement, Beijing will invest almost one-third, or $280 billion of its $400 billion investment, in the Iranian energy sectors. This will leave citizens in the Ahwazi islands in the Arabian Gulf, such as Jessem, Bab al-Salam (Hormuz), Kharg and Qais, as well as the inhabitants of Hor al-Azim in Khafajiya, suffering from even higher levels of pollution, unemployment, and poverty since China’s operations, particularly its large-scale draining of marshes and rivers in the search for oil and gas, will destroy the ecosystem of these areas and the livelihoods of those who depend on it. Currently, about 12,500 Ahwazis still live in Hor Al-Azim, with the economy of thousands in the Missan (Dasht Azadegan) district linked to agriculture and fishing in the marshland areas. Consequently, the Chinese intervention in the oil and gas sector will jeopardise the economy of the Ahwazi farmers due to the continuing policy of draining the marshes and rivers.

China role in the Ahwaz market  

The new Sino-Iranian agreement will also give China absolute control over the Ahwazi domestic market due to the arrival of Chinese companies in the Ahwaz region. Also, through the agreement, China aims to link Ahwazi cities with China through the “Belt and Road Initiative” in order to transfer Ahwaz’ resources wholesale to China, with Ahwazis receiving nothing in return.

As part of this agreement, China will extract oil, gas and other rich mineral resources in Ahwaz and transfer them to Chinese factories with no corresponding benefit for the Ahwazi people. 

The agreement will also grant China the right to establish a free trade zone in the Abadan-Muhammarah in order to promote Chinese factories and products, with this free zone set to play a major role in destroying local economies, and Beijing set to control all Ahwaz’s markets. There is no doubt that China seeks to extend the free zone to Iraq by supporting Iran’s regime in building a 37 km railway linking Muhammarah to Basra.

There is also no doubt that China’s presence in Ahwaz through controlling land resources – such as marshes, rivers, agriculture, and minerals – and the vast marine resources such as fishing, will eliminate domestic production in Ahwaz since China will send its crops to Ahwazi markets through the free zone, leaving Ahwazis unable to compete; in return, a large number of Ahwazi products will be destroyed.

Conclusion 

Through its new agreement with Iran’s regime, Beijing seeks to control all oil, gas and petrochemical resources, as well as freshwater resources and the environment in Ahwaz. We know what to expect in Ahwaz from China’s dire reputation for wrecking the environment and failing to provide any local job opportunities in countries it has already invested in. All this means that the long-suffering Ahwazi people are set to endure further suffering due to this new agreement since it threatens the economy and production of Ahwazis on a large scale. By destroying the marine and land environment, China will destroy the livelihoods of a large number of Ahwazi fishermen and farmers, while through its free zone in Abadan, China will impose its control on all Ahwazi markets by destroying local products, leaving Ahwazi farmers, fishermen and manufacturers unable to compete and pushing them into destitution. We can see this pattern already in other nations in Asia colonised by China, causing massive poverty and unemployment among a large number of citizens of these countries.

To conclude, the experience of China’s presence in countries such as Cambodia and Sri Lanka confirms that Chinese projects in these countries do not create sustainable development and job opportunities for the people. China’s control of land and marine economic resources in Ahwaz will also be run in tandem with the existing brutal colonial policy of Iran’s regime to accelerate demographic change in Ahwaz through unemployment, poverty, and the destruction of agricultural crops and the environment. As such, the Iranian regime views its agreement with China as a useful opportunity to increase the suffering of the Ahwazi people and to destroy their livelihoods, environment and economy in order to force them to leave their native lands, changing the demographic reality there.  

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