Wednesday’s damning IAEA report on the Iranian-nuclear program has turned the
spotlight on Tehran’s largest trading partner: the People’s Republic of
Immediately after the report’s release Beijing warned that the
report – which confirms Iran’s efforts to harness nuclear energy for weapons
manufacture – could spawn “turmoil” in a turbulent Middle East.
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Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China was “studying” the report, and repeated a
call to resolve the issue peacefully through talks.
“I wish to point out
that China opposes the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and disapproves of any
Middle Eastern country developing nuclear weapons. As a signatory to the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran bears the responsibilities of nuclear
non-proliferation,” he said Wednesday.
“The Iranian side should also
demonstrate flexibility and sincerity, and engage in serious cooperation with
the [IAEA]... I want to stress that avoiding fresh turmoil in the Middle Eastern
security environment is important for both the region and for the international
For years the Chinese government has walked a fine line on
Iran’s atom program, maintaining extensive trade ties with Tehran, while doing
its best to avoid antagonizing the West.
China, which as a permanent
member of the UN Security Council wields veto power, has backed previous council
resolutions condemning Tehran’s nuclear work and supported limited sanctions
against it. Harder-hitting sanctions, however, have yet to receive Beijing’s
A US official told Reuters that because of the opposition of
both China and Russia – Ira’s seventh-largest trading partner, which helped it
build the Bushehr nuclear facility – chances for tougher Security Council
sanctions are slim. On Wednesday Russian officials said new sanctions are
“unacceptable” to Moscow, and called for continued talks with the Iranian
Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense
of Democracies and head of its Iran Energy Project, said Chinese companies have
continued supplying significant quantities of Iran’s refined petroleum in
violation of US sanctions laws.
“The Obama administration has assured
Congress that Beijing has agreed to do no new deals, and to slow-walk its
existing deals,” he told The Jerusalem Post by e-mail from Washington. “Given
that Chinese companies signed over $40 billion in new energy deals in recent
years, it’s unclear whether this commitment to do no new deals covers these
billions of deals already in the pipeline, and how quickly China is moving ahead
in implementing what it considers to be existing deals.”
Daily newspaper said the nuclear standoff between Iran and the West could erupt
into military conflict.
“It is clear that contention between the various
sides over the Iranian nuclear issue has reached white hot levels and could even
be on the precipice of a showdown,” the newspaper – a Communist Party organ that
generally presents the government’s official line – said in a front-page
China’s official Xinhua news agency also suggested Beijing
would respond warily to the report. The UN watchdog still “lacks a smoking gun,”
the agency said in a commentary.
“There are no witnesses or physical
evidence to prove that Iran is making nuclear weapons... In dealing with the
Iran nuclear issue, it is extremely dangerous to rely on suspicions, and the
destructive consequences of any armed action would endure for a long
Iran shipped over 20 million tons of oil to China over the first
nine months of this year, an increase of almost a third since the same period
last year. Overall trade between the two countries rose 58 percent over that
period, to almost $33 billion.
“The onus [in the international community]
will really be on China, as the only country whose economic relations with Iran
have grown,” Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution in
Washington, told Reuters.
Ilan Berman, vice president of the American
Foreign Policy Council, wrote in an op-ed in Wednesday’s New York Times that
China must be made to feel that its business with Iran is no longer
“In recent years, China’s economic dynamism has brought with
it a voracious appetite for energy. This has made energy-rich Iran a natural
strategic partner. In 2009, Iran ranked as China’s second largest oil provider,
accounting for some 15% of Beijing’s annual imports,” Berman wrote. (The
European Union is the leading consumer of Iranian oil.) “In exchange, China has
aided and abetted Iran’s quest for nuclear capacity.
has done so by complicating oversight of Iran’s nuclear program, and by
resisting the application of serious sanctions against Tehran,” Berman
“Chinese leaders have become convinced that Washington
prioritizes bilateral trade with Beijing over security concerns about Iran, and
that it therefore won’t enact serious penalties for China’s dealings with
The last, best hope of peacefully derailing Iran’s nuclear drive
lies in convincing Beijing that ‘business as usual’ with Tehran is simply no