1974 China first imported oil from Iran.
January: China and Iran signed a $500 million trade pact that increased bilateral trade by 150 percent. The package provided Iran with military supplies or civilian equipment that could be converted into military use, such as jeeps and trucks. Tehran became China’s top trading partner in the Middle East. In the early 1980s, the majority of China’s trade with Iran supported the Iranian war effort against Iraq.
March 3: Iran and China established the Joint Committee on Cooperation of Economy, Trade, Science and Technology to collaborate on energy, machinery, transportation, building material, mining, chemicals, and nonferrous metal.
1992-1998: Bilateral trade hovered between $437 million and $1.2 billion. During this period, energy cooperation between the two countries steadily increased as China entered a period of rapid industrialization and population growth.
December: Beijing became a net importer of oil after domestic consumption rates exceeded production. In 1993, China produced 2.90 million bpd and consumed 2.99 million bpd. Rapid industrialization in the 1990s led China to increase its oil consumption from 2.33 million bpd in 1990 to 4.69 million bpd by 2000. China gradually started buying oil from untapped markets in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
August 5: The Clinton administration passed the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act that imposed tough penalties on companies found investing more than $20 million a year in Iran’s oil and gas industry. The sanctions had modest short-term effects on Iran’s economy. Contracts in Iranian oil and gas fields were delayed, and many foreign companies deferred bidding on new investments. The National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) had to render greater incentives to negotiate term contracts for supplies formerly committed to U.S. companies.
September: China signed a comprehensive military contract to sell combat aircraft, warships, a variety of armored vehicles, missile and electronic equipment, and military training to Iran. This deal was eventually halted when Beijing agreed to stop selling missiles to Tehran after U.S. pressure.
January: China signed an agreement for oil and gas exploration in Iran. It was Beijing’s first investment in Iran’s domestic oil and gas industry. The deal established multi-billion dollar development projects in the South Pars gas field and Azadegan oil field.
October: Chinese President Jian Zemin assured the United States that China would not transfer additional anti-ship cruise missiles or technology to Iran, nor aid its domestic production program.
January: The NIOC signed an $85 million contract with the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) to drill 19 new oil wells in southern Iran.
June 22-6: President Mohammad Khatami traveled to China for a state visit to reinforce economic, political, and military relations between the two countries. Khatami met with Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Tehran and Beijing signed agreements on energy, mining, and tourism. Both presidents pledged to support stronger ties and cooperation, including in the energy, transportation, communication, technology, and baking sectors. Khatami traveled to several cities and regions, including Beijing, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong.
March 18: Tehran reached a $20 billion agreement with China’s state-owned Zhuhai Zhenrong Corporation to purchase over 110 million tons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Iran over a 25 year period. It was, at the time, the world’s single largest purchase of natural gas. China had focused on moving away from burning coal to using cleaner natural gas for its domestic energy needs. Chinese companies rushed to purchase Iran’s large gas reserves—15 percent of the world’s total supply—to profit off Beijing’s growing energy needs.
October: Iran and China agreed to an additional $100 billion deal to add 250 million tons of LNG to China’s domestic supply over a 25 year period. Sinopec signed the deal to develop the Yadavaran oil field in 2006. Sinopec halted the second phase of project in May 2019 while two countries reopened contract negotiations.
December 9: China’s Sinopec signed a $2 billion deal to develop 137 wells at Yadavaran oil field in western Iran. The project had two phases, the first over four years to produce 85,000 barrels per day and the second over the following three years for an additional 100,000 bpd.
2008-2009: Bilateral trade fell from $27.8 billion in 2008 to $21.2 billion in 2009. Global trade generally decreased in 2009 due to fallout from the global economic crisis as global demand decreased.
2009-2011: Bilateral trade significantly increased from $21.2 billion in 2009 to $45.10 billion in 2011. Tightened sanctions increased Iran’s reliance on Chinese imports as Western firms withdrew from Iran’s oil and gas industry. Beijing, as a result, surpassed the European Union as the top buyer of Iranian oil.
January 14: NIOC and CNPC signed a 12-year, $1.76 billion contract to develop the North Azadegan oil field in western Iran. The agreement was based on a buyback plan in which CNPC would develop the field then hand over operations to NIOC and receive payment in oil and gas production until the contract is paid off. Crude output capacity was expected to reach 75,000 bpd in the first 48 months of development. In 2016, CNPC began production at the field, which pumped an estimated 80,000 bpd.
March 9: NIOC opened an office in Beijing to attract investment in Tehran’s energy sector.
June 10: CNPC signed a $4.7 billion contract with NIOC to develop Iran’s South Pars gas field, the largest natural gas field in the Middle East.
November 21: Iran opened its first foreign commerce center in Shanghai to streamline joint investment projects between Iranian and Chinese companies.
December: China overtook the European Union as Iran’s largest trading partner after bilateral trade soared to $36.5 billion, up from $14.4 billion just three years before. Crude oil accounted for approximately 80 percent of total Iranian exports to China.
June 9: The U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1929 which tightened proliferation-related sanctions on Iran. It banned Tehran from testing missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads and imposed an embargo on the transfer of major weapons systems to Iran.
June 24: The United States adopted the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act which targeted firms investing in Iran’s energy sector or selling refined petroleum to Tehran. It also imposed sanctions on foreign banks conducting business with Iran.
October: The Chinese government reportedly instructed companies to curtail energy development projects in Iran after U.S. sanctions and an agreement with the Obama administration to not undertake future Iranian investment projects. The United States, in return, agreed not to sanction prior Chinese investments.
2011-2012: Bilateral relations decreased from $45.1 billion in 2011 to $36.5 billion in 2012. Many Chinese companies pulled out of contracts due to U.S., U.N., and E.U. sanctions on Iran.
September: CNPC delayed a drilling exploration project at the South Pars oil field, leading to warnings from Tehran to speed up development or lose the contract.
China’s Sinopec company halted the second phase of a 2007 development contract at the Yadavaran oil field after pressure from the United States.
China’s Sinopec company signed a deal with Iran to import an additional 90,000 bpd of condensate. China continued to import Iranian oil despite a decrease in Chinese energy investment projects in Iran due to the threat of U.S. sanctions.
January: The European Union adopted a set of targeted sanctions that banned the import, purchase, and transport of Iranian crude oil and petroleum projects. It also agreed to freeze the assets of Iran’s central bank in the European Union. E.U. countries imported 20 percent of Iran’s oil at the time.
2013-2014: Bilateral trade increased from $39.4 billion in 2013 to $51.8 billion in 2014 due to U.S. sanctions waivers, which increased Chinese oil imports.
November 24: Iran and six world powers – China, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – signed a deal in Geneva that released $4.2 billion in Iranian oil sales from frozen accounts. Tehran, in return, committed to curbing its nuclear program. The agreement limited Iran’s oil exports to 1 million bpd.
November 29: The United States granted a six-month sanctions waiver to China, India, South Korea and other countries in exchange for their commitment to reduce purchases of Iranian oil.
2014- 2015: Bilateral trade decreased from $51.8 billion in 2014 to $31.2 billion in 2016. The drop was the result of a sharp decrease in global oil prices.
July 14: Iran and the six world powers known collectively as the P5+1 reached a landmark deal in which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program and provide access to inspectors in exchange for sanctions relief. The agreement, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, went into implementation in January 2016.
May 8: President Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA and reimposition of sanctions on Iran. Britain, France and Germany moved to salvage the accord. Iran stated its intent to continue with the deal if its economic benefits could be guaranteed. Both China and Russia said they intended to observe the JCPOA and continue to trade with Iran.
November 5: The Trump administration granted temporary waivers to China to import 360,000 bpd of Iranian oil, half of the daily average since January 2016. Beijing was allowed to continue nonproliferation projects at Iranian nuclear facilities.
December 12: CNPC suspended its operations at Iran’s South Pars gas field after pressure from the United States.
January: China’s Sinopec company offered Tehran a $3 billion investment plan to further develop the Yadavaran oil field.
May 2: The Trump administration let sanctions waivers expire in an attempt to “bring Iran’s oil exports to zero.” The waivers had allowed China and seven other countries to continue importing Iranian oil despite U.S. sanctions.
September 11: The Iranian armed forces chief of staff traveled to China for the first time in 40 years. Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri held meetings with senior Chinese military and political officials to discuss security cooperation between the two countries. At the end of the visit, Bagheri announced that a joint naval drill with China would be held in the Gulf of Oman. He did not specify a timeline.
October 6: Tehran announced that China's Sinopec pulled out of a $5 billion deal to develop the South Pars oil field. France’s Total SA previously withdrew from the contract in 2018 after the reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil and gas industry. Oil minister Bijan Zangeneh said Petropars, a domestic company, would take over the contract.
October 21: China's special envoy to the Middle East, Zhai Jun, visited Iran with a delegation to discuss regional developments. Iranian officials called on Beijing to play a more prominent role in the Middle East and highlighted the achievements of Iran, Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah in altering the balance of power in the region.
December 1: Iran and China held a joint meeting in Beijing to discuss the JCPOA. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Abbas Aragchi and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu attended the meeting and stressed the need for closer economic ties between the two countries. “New methods have been found, and we are returning to a stable economic condition in our relations with China, but we need to remove obstacles and upgrade the level of mutual economic ties,” said Aragchi.
June: The “Final Draft of Iran-Strategic Partnership,” a draft of a 25-year agreement with China, circulated on Iranian social media. The 18-page document, which appeared to be leaked, stoked fears among Iran’s public and politicians that China was deepening relations with Iran through secret deals on oil, communications technology, and military ties.
October 10: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with his counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing. They discussed the 25-year comprehensive partnership, preserving the 2015 nuclear deal, collaborating on a COVID-19 vaccine and other issues of shared concern. The officials also condemned the United States for imposing sanctions on 18 major banks on October 8.
March 27: Iran and China signed a 25 year "strategic partnership" to deepen economic and security ties. The text of the agreement was not published, but a draft released in June 2020 indicated that Beijing would invest billions in exchange for a heavily discounted supply of Iranian oil. "We want China to continue to be a major trading partner to Iran and to have more cooperation in the field of joint ventures," President Hassan Rouhani said.
March 28: President Joe Biden told reporters that he had been “concerned” about the emerging partnership between Iran and China “for years.” On the next day, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said that Biden was right to be concerned.
August 10: A Chinese hacker group, UNC215, targeted Iranian computer systems, California-based cybersecurity firm FireEye reported. The objective of the hack was unknown, but UNC215 "targets data and organizations which are of great interest to Beijing's financial, diplomatic, and strategic objectives," FireEye said. The Chinese hacker group also targeted Israel, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Thailand, Kazakhstan and the United Arab Emirates.
UNC215 tried to disguise its activities by posing as Iranian hackers. "The use of Farsi strings, filepaths containing /Iran/, and web shells publicly associated with Iranian APT groups may have been intended to mislead analysts and suggest an attribution to Iran," FireEye said.
August 16: Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged that he would "enrich" the 25-year strategic partnership between China and Iran that was signed in March 2021. "Since the establishment of diplomatic ties half a century ago, the relations between China and Iran have developed steadily and the traditional friendship between the two countries has grown stronger with time," Xi said in a statement.
August 18: President Raisi sided with Beijing over its rejection of a second WHO probe into the origins of the coronavirus. "The politicization of the source of the COVID-19 pandemic is a serious threat to global health and is an example of some countries' efforts to isolate China," Raisi told Chinese President Xi Jinping in a phone call. Xi promised to do his "utmost to deliver the vaccine to Iran and help Iran overcome [the] coronavirus."
August 20: President Raisi told the National Coronavirus Task Force that Xi had promised to accelerate shipments of vaccines to Iran.
September 15: Iran signed an agreement to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The SCO’s eight permanent members included China, Russia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The process to formally admit Iran as a full member was expected to take up to two years.
December 13: Vice President Mohammad Mokhber met with Chinese Vice Premier Hu Chunhua in Tehran to discuss the 25 year comprehensive strategic partnership. The two men expressed their intentions to strengthen ties. Iran’s Foreign Ministry had expressed “deep discontent” with a statement issued by China and the Gulf Cooperation Council supporting a resolution to Iran’s territorial dispute with the United Arab Emirates over three islands. China had sent Vice Premier Chunhua to the United Arab Emirates and Iran to reinforce its commitment to both countries.
December 14: Finance Minister Ehsan Khandouzi announced 16 new memoranda of understanding with China as part of the 25 year comprehensive strategic partnership. The two countries signed deals in the energy, investment, banking, and infrastructure sectors. Finance Minister Ehsan Khandouzi announced 16 new memoranda of understanding with China as part of the 25-year partnership. The two countries signed deals in the energy, investment, banking, and infrastructure sectors.
February 14: During President Ebrahim Raisi’s three-day state visit to Beijing, Iran and China signed 20 agreements—including on trade, transportation, information technology, tourism, agriculture, and crisis response—that could be worth billions of dollars. Amid rising tensions with Western powers, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to strengthen security and economic cooperation. China would invest in joint projects, including a high-speed rail system linking Tehran and Mashhad and improvements to Imam Khomeini Airport.
March 10: In Beijing, China brokered an agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore diplomatic ties seven years after severing relations. The regional rivals committed to reopening embassies in Tehran and Riyadh by May 2023.
March 15-19: Iran, China, and Russia conducted a joint naval drill in the Gulf of Oman. The drill, "Security Bond-2023," would "deepen practical cooperation between the participating countries' navies... and inject positive energy into regional peace and stability," the Chinese Defense Ministry said. The drill reportedly focused on non-combat activities such as search and rescue operations.
July 4: Iran was formally admitted as the ninth member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a security and economic organization led by China and Russia, during an online summit hosted by India. President Ebrahim Raisi joined the proceedings with leaders from other member states, including India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
In a joint declaration, the SCO called for a “multi-polar world order” and rejected ideological blocs in world politics. The statement condemned the “unilateral and unlimited expansion of global missile defense systems” and stressed the need to “establish an inclusive government in Afghanistan with the participation of representatives of all ethnic, religious and political groups in Afghan society.” The SCO also proposed a 2030 Economic Development Strategy and endorsed China’s Belt and Road Initiative, although India opposed the latter move.
July 8: Tehran added Chinese to foreign language curriculum in Iranian schools. The schools could teach English, standard Chinese, Arabic, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish.
July 31: Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Akbar Ahmadian met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in South Africa to discuss ties and economic cooperation. The two discussed strengthening coordination under China’s Belt and Road Initiative on the sidelines of a meeting of the BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Wang also backed Iran’s sovereignty and national security.
July 31: Oil exports from Iran to China tripled between 2020 and 2023, according to Kpler, a firm that tracks international oil transfers. In 2020, Iran exported some 324,000 barrels per day (bpd) to China. Between January and July 2023, transfers reached roughly 1.1 million bpd.