Unsettled by the sight of a giant Chinese flag lighting up Tehran's landmark Azadi Tower on Monday (January 31), Iranians took to social media to voice their concern about the burgeoning relationship between their country and China.
The public outcry against China comes amid residual anger at the Iranian regime over its decision to enter into a 25-year "strategic co-operation pact" with the so-called communist state, the details of which remain murky, at best.
Many regard the $400 billion deal -- part of a sweeping Chinese plan to fund infrastructure projects and increase China's global sway -- as an Iranian "sellout".
So they were disconcerted to see the Chinese flag, projected in full colour alongside their own, amid promotional displays for the winter Olympics.
A number of countries have announced diplomatic boycotts of the 2022 Olympics, set to kick off Friday in Beijing, over China's human rights violations in Xinjiang and its oppression of the country's Uighur Muslim population.
And the Global Imams Council in December called on Muslims around the world to refrain from participating in or attending the winter games.
Iranians expressed their anger about the flag projection on social media, asking, "Would other countries, including China, do the same for Iran?"
Iranian officials said the display marked the start of the Chinese New Year, which also happens to be the 50th anniversary of Iran-China relations.
Against the backdrop of promotional videos and flags, Iranian and Chinese officials made speeches about the "imminent" first phase of the 25-year deal.
Iran-China Friendship Association director Alaeddine Boroujerdi and Chang Hua, China's ambassador in Iran, were among the speakers who emphasised "50 years of alliance and friendship".
This is not the first time the Iranian regime has made public gestures of this nature. At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, the Azadi Tower was lit up with the message "Be strong, Wuhan".
Iranian authorities have been accused of "gross negligence" for continuing flights to China in the early days of the pandemic, which contributed to the spread of the virus throughout Iran.
Chinese consulate opens in key Iranian port
In a further sign of the wide reach of the Iran-China agreement, the Chinese opened a consulate in the strategic southern port city of Bandar-e Abbas last month.
As Iranian and Chinese officials were speaking at the foot of Azadi Tower, Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian posted a tweet in Chinese, which sparked a social media backlash.
"My best wishes for the people and government of China on the occasion of their New Year," he wrote.
"We will implement the expansive co-operation agreement with China using ultimate power so that the second 50 years of Iran-China relations would be even stronger."
Amir-Abdollahian's counterpart in China did not respond to the gesture.
But the Chinese ambassador reposted the tweet and responded, "Thank you, sir. Friendship forever."
Some social media users reminded the regime of its own flagship slogan: "Neither East nor West, only the Islamic Republic".
Others noted that the Iranian foreign minister's tweet would not reach inside China, as Twitter is banned in that country.