Monday 14 September 2020

China in Iran: In Whose Dreams?

Several days ago, one of our Anons alerted us to this in a BTL comment on the "Chairman Xi" post.  Astonishing stuff ... if true.  Everyone's worst nightmare.

a large-scale roll-out of electronic espionage and warfare capabilities focussed around the port of Chabahar ... and the concomitant build-out of mass surveillance and monitoring of the Iranian population ... Iran will be an irreplaceable geographical and geopolitical foundation stone in Beijing’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ project, as well as providing a large pool of young, well-educated, relatively cheap labor for Chinese industry. The mass surveillance, monitoring, and control systems to cover Iran’s population is to begin its full roll-out as from the second week of November ... 10 million extra CCTV 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 ... 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 ...

China plans to build one of the biggest intelligence gathering listening stations in the world, in Chabahar. “It will have a staff of nearly 1,000 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 ... to intercept, monitor, and neutralize the C4ISR systems used by NATO and associate members, including ... Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel”...   [allowing] Beijing to extend its reach in monitoring and disrupting the communications of its perceived enemies ... from the edge of Austria in the West, to Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya in the south, and back to the East across all of Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Thailand.

So what do we know?  Well, this much is indisputable: the Chinese are certainly engaging purposefully with Iran - and why wouldn't they?  The Belt-and-Road (westwards branch) pretty much requires it.  And troublemaking for the USA is troublemaking for the USA.  So a lot of what is confirmed public knowledge makes perfect sense and, who knows, may even be carried through - though many a grandiose plan never really works out as envisaged, and one can imagine no end of practical difficulties, cultural frictions, misunderstandings etc to contribute to the dampening of the squib.

However, the source (apparently single-source) of the more alarming prospect summarised above is clearly a self-serving Iranian briefing.  

How to assess it?  Well, the content (if not the briefing) all makes perfect sense - for China.  Why wouldn't they just love all those putative intelligence facilities in that central, pivotal, troubled region, the very cockpit of the world? (- US shale oil or not.)   That's global-major-league stuff - the reason why NATO has tolerated Turkey all these years; why the UK's sovereign bases on Cyprus are sacrosanct; why Israel always has something to offer; why several Gulf states are always able to make themselves useful; why Russia wants Syria. 

That said, the whole account (on the intelligence aspects) reads rather like an Iranian pimp-pitch to China.  Hey, fellahs, we've really thought this one through!  Have a look at this brochure!  We can offer you your ultimate wet dream!!   And I'm sure the Chinese can put it all in context for their strategic decision-making.  Doesn't quite have the air of a done deal: for one thing, what eejit would brief all that stuff if it was China's actual, treaty-bound Plan A for the next few years?  Don't we imagine there'd be a few pages of, errr, NDA in the documentation (with blood-curdling default provisions)?

In fact, given the background to the briefing, it's even more likely to be at still one more remove from any done deals.  Rather than being even an Iranian pitch-pack to the Chinese, it's probably a preview for the USA et al on what such a pitch-pack might contain.  Not so much an eastwards-facing: look what we can offer you, as a westwards-facing look what we might offer them

Indeed.  Everyone has the same dreams on these matters.

*   *   *   *   *

Equally interesting, though, is the other stuff:  the "offer" of (request for?) installation in Iran of all that ultra-invasive Chinese population-micro-control techology for directing every waking muscle-twitch of every citizen (and probably their dream-patterns too).  The mullahs want that stuff, too?

That also makes perfect sense.  The whole Chinese "social credit" thing has quite clear parallels with the way the Catholic Church operated across Europe in its pernicious heyday (and how the EC federasts, and the greens, and the Putinistas, would like to operate - if they could, or dared).  It's religious, through and through.  God is watching your every movement, knows your every thought, requires your total obedience in everything, as instructed by this vast body of totally,* ahem*, incorruptible priests ...   

Rather ideal, then, for the mullahs.  This moves my thinking on the 'Chinese Century' forward by a rather unwelcome step.  I'd tended to subscribe to the view that Soft Power intrinsically resides with the West, because everyone in the world (it seems) wants FB and Pepsi and Apple stuff and Range Rovers and freedom and etc.  Who, aside from Putin, actually wants anything Chinese (except their money and cheap labour)?

Well.  perhaps the answer is: every dictatorial regime in the world

Hmm.  The mullahs may fancy all that micro-control tech, as a big advance on what their network of Revolutionary Guards and onside imams can offer.  But the Iranian people themselves?  I've seen first-hand what Africans think of their Chinese "business partners".  And the Iranians are a pretty stroppy lot, with serious depth of education and culture and tradition.  Yes, of course, they've knuckled under to the mullahs for nearly 40 years now - after a fashion.  (Khomeini did something very clever when he took over in 1979-80: at first, he did nothing - except cancel the Shah's vast defence outlays and plough the money straight back into the pockets of Mr & Mrs Average Iranian.  Hey, this ain't so bad!   Thus mollified, they complacently gave him a couple of years to gather his forces for the Big Clampdown.) 

But are the Iranians, all 80 million of them, with easy access to guns and long porous borders and hostile neighbours and banditry and fanatics of all hues, ready to be shepherded into a Uighur-like existence in their own country?  The mullahs may need a bit more than their own outpost of the Great Firewall to achieve that.



Don Cox said...

The Arabs didn't manage to get the Persians to speak Arabic.

Don Cox

iOpener said...

Chinese and Persians partnering up - what could possibly go wrong?

Even so, the most likely result is a massive cock-up between these two wildly competent - incompetent peoples. Never before has so much cleverness and stupidity been mixed into one pot since the Russians and Germans had a brief attempt at it under Ribbentrop and Molotov.

Thud said...

Iranians (persians) with some justification think of themselves as a cut above that entire part of the world and I just see linking with China as something that will end in tears.

Matt said...

My local Persian restaurateur tells me that the 40 year rule of the Mullahs won't last for much longer.

That "large pool of young, well-educated" people are fed up. They've had a few cracks at getting rid of them, but the Chinese imported mass surveillance, monitoring and control systems might well be the thing that does the job properly.

Nick Drew said...

Yes. I've known quite a few Iranians in several contexts. All well-educated (but not living) abroad - France, UK, USA. Tough, resourceful, sharp. Proud.

There's a big middle class there. That's one of the takeaways from that weekend reading list:

Debating with Weiwei Zhang, the triumphalist theorist of the Chinese civilisation-state, Fukuyama warns that growing prosperity threatens China’s future stability because “revolutions are never created by poor people. They are actually created by middle-class people. They are created by people who are educated to have opportunities. But these opportunities are blocked by the political or economic system. It is the gap between their expectation and the ability of the system to accommodate their expectation which causes political instability. So the growth of a middle class, I think, is not a guarantee against insurgencies, but a cause of insurgencies”

Anonymous said...

A friend knew several, and spent time there, and the gist was that outside Tehran the Mullahs were tolerated on the basis that it wasn't worth the chaos to get rid of them, and they generally had little effect on day to day living.

Importing China's prodnose-tech will change that balance - it may just be that Iranians will leave in their droves, rather than revolt, and promote intervention. There would be some amusement were the US and Israel to flatten the Mullahs and their Chinese toys, and then see a new civilian government installed, at the behest of those ex-pats.

I'm sure a moderate, Western-tolerant Iranian government would lead to much joy in so very many places.

dearieme said...

"why the UK's sovereign bases on Cyprus are sacrosanct"

I'd rather hoped we might give them up when Brexit is finally realised. Let the Frogs or Krauts bear the cost.

Unless, of course, they offer us a tool against the EU. That would be quite different.

hovis said...

@dearieme - the Cyprus bases have, iirc, been there since Disreali's gain at the 1878 Congress of Berlin, so I understand where you are coming from, I can't see it happening.

@ND - tbh whilst the "social credit" thing moght be one for EC federasts, and the greens, and the Putinistas. You are missing the modern Tory Party in there and their handlers wanting people to infom on their neighbours if they have more than 6 people in their house, "covid marshalls" and the papers please culture for a threat that does not significantly exist.

Anonymous said...

"Who, aside from Putin, actually wants anything Chinese?"

Have you opened an Argos catlogue lately? Or looked at where your face-masks and oxygen monitors are made? Or the GE X-ray machines in your local hospital? Or asked where the chemical feedstock for our Indian pharmaceuticals comes from?

I am old enough to remember when Japan was famous only as a producer of cheap plastic toys, and we kids would laugh at the broken English instructions. Chinese motorcycles are pretty poor quality, unlike the well made, non-leaky Japanese counterparts which wiped out UK producers in the 1960s, and the Great Wall Steed is a pretty clunky 4x4 pickup, but early days yet.

"the Iranians are a pretty stroppy lot, with serious depth of education and culture and tradition"

So were the Brits - in spades - and look what's happened to them, as they surrender one big city after another - and that was without a Panopticon in place. When the England cricket team gets on its knees for a dead American criminal and porn actor, you have to say the cultural demolition engineers have done an unbelieveable job. That job took 60 years in the UK, but less than 30 in Ireland.

AndrewZ said...

Here's another interesting perspective on China, the "faltering contender" hypothesis with historical comparisons to Germany in 1918 and Japan in 1941:

Nick Drew said...

Thanks, AZ - a good and very apposite link

We've discussed here before that old favourite counterfactual - what if Russia had tried the same during the Cold War? (extra points for a good stab at which year would have been their best bet for the gamble)

to recap: what I always say on this debate is

(a) it speaks well for the Russians (and the US) that they were too mature & sober to be casual with their nukes

(b) additionally, though, they might have stayed their hand partly because their marxist theory told them the great plum was going to fall in their laps anyway, in the fullness of time (a good excuse for procrastination, anyhow)

wonder what Chairman Xi thinks on that last one (mutatis mutandis)? I'm saying he's showing all the signs of deeply ahistorical, undoctrinal, common-or-garden impatience

and a selfish, deeply uncomradely desire for personal glory - in his lifetime!