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Expand chart
Data: Xinhua; Map: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

China is building and upgrading railroads in the west and east of Iran, making the Persian Gulf nation the centerpiece of an enormous transportation-and-energy latticework connecting much of the global economy, per the NYT.

Why this is a big deal: In the same way that Britain ruled its 19th century empire through a far-flung navy, and the U.S. has done so through its trade deals and its own big naval ships, Beijing is preparing for the day years from now when it may be the premier global power. Its vehicle is an infrastructural Pax Sinica, what it calls "One Belt, One Road."

In eastern Iran, the work is linking it with Afghanistan and Central Asia, the oil-rich former Soviet region. And in Iran's west, similar work is connecting the country to Turkey, and from there to Europe. China already has roads, railroads, oil and natural gas pipelines – or plans for them — to which these railroads will connect. A passenger or cargo will be able to ride from Tehran east to the western Chinese capital of Urumchi, or west anywhere in Europe. Other infrastructure stretches through southeast Asia, into Pakistan, and north to Russia.

  • A level deeper: Jon Alterman, director of Middle East Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, tells Axios that One Belt, One Road is strategic at its core, designed "to secure China from a [potential] American-led blockade" of the Chinese mainland.
  • The U.S. is kind of doing it, too: "The U.S. military is spending hundreds of billions of dollars to ensure it can defend against the Chinese military on the shores of China if it comes to that," Alterman says. "If the U.S. is doing that, China is willing to spend a lesser amount to guard against the same eventuality."
  • And Iran fits right in to that vision: "China is serious about having a foothold in southwest Asia that is not subject to an American veto. Iran is a great hedge against American hegemony," he said.

Go deeper

Brazil begins distributing AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine

Containers carrying doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine arrive in Brazil. Photo: Maurio Pimentel/AFP via Getty Images

Brazil on Saturday began distributing the 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine that arrived from India Friday, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: Brazil has the third highest COVID-19 case-count in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The 2 million doses "only scratch the surface of the shortfall," Brazilian public health experts told the AP.

Sullivan speaks with Israel's national security adviser for the first time

Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben Shabbat U.S. Photo: Mazen Mahdi/Getty Images. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Photo: Chandan Khanna/Getty Images

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke on the phone Saturday with his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben Shabbat, Israeli officials tell Axios.

Why it matters: This is the first contact between the Biden White House and Israeli prime minister's office. During the transition, the Biden team refrained from speaking to foreign governments.

Biden speaks to Mexican president about reversing Trump's "draconian immigration policies"

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Ismael Rosas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

President Biden told his Mexican counterpart, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, on a phone call Friday that he plans to reverse former President Trump’s “draconian immigration policies.”

The big picture: The Biden administration has already started repealing several of Trump’s immigration policies, including ordering a 100-day freeze on deporting many unauthorized immigrants, halting work on the southern border wall, and reversing plans to exclude undocumented people from being included in the 2020 census.