July 6, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iran Becomes Full Member of Shanghai Cooperation Organization

July 6, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iran Becomes Full Member of Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Latest Developments

Iran officially became the ninth member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi participating in the organization’s virtual summit on July 4. Iran’s entry into the SCO marks another step by the Islamic Republic to bolster the Russia-China-Iran economic and military axis against the West. Founded in 2001 by China and Russia, the SCO is a Eurasian security and political group that also includes India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Expert Analysis

“In championing Iran’s SCO membership, Beijing aims to demonstrate ideological solidarity with Tehran while also easing the regime’s international isolation. In exchange, China hopes to secure favorable terms for Iranian oil while also benefitting from Iranian insight into U.S. sanctions evasion — a key Chinese priority as it weighs possible plans to invade Taiwan.” Craig Singleton, FDD China Program Deputy Director and Senior Fellow

“The Chinese Communist Party and the Islamic Republic of Iran are united in their disdain for the United States, and increasingly close Sino-Iranian relations present genuine national security challenges for Washington, its Arab partners, and Israel. Chinese investment in Tehran will make U.S.-led sanctions against the Islamic Republic less effective, eroding Washington’s leverage and increasing the potential necessity for military action against Iran’s nuclear program.” Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

China Active in Middle East

Iran’s accession to the SCO was initially approved in a 2021 vote of member states. Earlier that year, Tehran and Beijing signed a 25-year strategic partnership. The exact contents of the agreement remain a secret, but a leaked copy called for China and Iran to conduct combined military training, exercises, weapons development, and intelligence sharing.

More recently, Beijing brokered an agreement between Iran and rival Saudi Arabia to reestablish relations, with both countries agreeing to reopen their respective embassies after a seven-year freeze. China is a major importer of oil from Iran and Saudi Arabia.  

Iran-Russia Alliance Against the West

Despite their competition to sell cheap, sanctioned oil to the likes of China and other states defying U.S. sanctions, Iran and Russia have cobbled together a political and military alliance. Iran’s provision to Russia of suicide drones and desperately needed artillery shells and ammunition has helped prolong and bolster Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In April, The Wall Street Journal reported that Russian cargo ships have imported more than 300,000 artillery shells and a million rounds of ammunition from Iran through the Caspian Sea. Earlier this year, Moscow and Tehran moved forward with plans to construct a factory to produce Iranian Shahed-136 drones — which Moscow rebranded as the Geran-2 — near the Russian town of Yelabuga.

In return, Russia is helping Iran advance its cyber warfare and digital surveillance capabilities by providing it with advanced digital surveillance software, according to The Wall Street Journal. The software enables the regime in Tehran to hack into phones and other digital systems used by dissidents and other adversaries.

Biden Can No Longer Ignore Growing Iran-China Ties,” by Bradley Bowman and Zane Zovak

Iran Joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation,” by Bradley Bowman, Ryan Brobst, and Zane Zovak

Saudi Arabia, Iran Agree to Reestablish Diplomatic Ties,” FDD Flash Brief

Iran Pledges Support for Putin After Failed Mutiny,” FDD Flash Brief


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