China’s Frustrated Iran Diplomacy
Image Credit: Bernd.Brincken

China’s Frustrated Iran Diplomacy


Amidst recurrent warnings by Israeli politicians that the moment for a military strike against Iran is drawing closer, the United States, the European Union and pro-Western Arab regimes are apparently contemplating full economic warfare against Tehran. They seem determined to intensify existing sanctions by cutting off the Iranian central bank, the last channel for handling Iran’s oil exports, from the global financial system.  

This is tantamount to an oil embargo, one that would not only affect EU member states allied with the United States, but also leading Asian importers of Iranian oil, including China, India and Japan. With this in mind, a series of multilateral meetings have been taking place aimed at designing a strategy that can minimize the turmoil that this ultimate step could result in, including price hikes and a disorderly scramble for alternative suppliers.  

While admitting that the accumulated sanctions are causing pain, Iran has, as expected, responded to the latest pressure and threats with defiance. The governor of Iran’s central bank, Mahmoud Bahmani, told the media that Iran must act as if it were “under siege.” China and Russia, for their part, are strongly opposed to the renewed Western campaign of pressure and sanctions, and are advocating dialogue and negotiations to calm the crisis.  

The first U.S. move in the current round of escalation was the claim in mid-October that an Iranian covert operation to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States had been uncovered. The plot was met with scepticism even in some circles in Saudi Arabia, where it was suggested that the United States was exaggerating the Iranian menace to pressure the Saudis to buy more U.S. weapons. The United States sponsored a U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning Iran for the alleged plot. However, China abstained “for lack of evidence, the absence of a truly serious investigation, rush to judgment and politicization of the issue.”  

The next step was the publication in November of a new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran’s “progress” toward a nuclear device, including computer modelling of a nuclear warhead, testing explosives in a large metal chamber and studying how to arm a Shahab 3 medium-range missile with an atomic warhead.  

However, the report was considered too weak by Russia and China to justify more sanctions. Other analysts agreed that the report lacked a “smoking gun” proving conclusively that Iran is on the verge of making a nuclear weapon. The IAEA board therefore adopted only a watered down resolution, which Iran ignored. China and Russia, meanwhile, used their weight at the U.N. Security Council to block any possibility of the sanctions being more broadly imposed through a U.N. resolution.  

The third blow delivered to Iran was a major explosion in the middle of last month at an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) missile facility, in which a high-ranking Iranian missile specialist, Gen. Hassan Moghaddam, and other military personnel were killed. At the same time, the son of a former commander of the IRGC was reportedly found dead in Dubai, raising suspicions in Iran that other political assassinations had been carried out by Israeli agents. After all, previous targets in Tehran attributed to the Mossad and/or C.I.A. have included Iranian nuclear scientists.  

Add up the various incidents, bombings, assassinations, sabotage of centrifuges by computer virus and the recent downing of a U.S. drone on a spying mission and it seems clear that the United States and Israel have been waging a secretive, low-intensity war against Iran for some time. But are this clandestine campaign and the threat of an all-out oil embargo merely the prelude to the much-anticipated military strikes?  

Iranian analysts no longer disguise their concern that the situation is deteriorating, and there’s every expectation in Tehran of even more menacing developments. Such concerns appear to have manifested themselves in a tough response that has included the storming of the British Embassy by what are believed to be elements of the basiji, the militia of the Revolutionary Guards. The siege is said to have been fomented by elite hardliners, including Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, although the incident was condemned by the Foreign Ministry.  

So where does China fit into all of this? Beijing has since the first wave of U.N. sanctions in 2006 been cooperative with the West, but has consistently opposed additional Western sanctions, which it considers violations of international law. It has kept its cool and reiterated its old demands that further sanctions and even military action won’t solve the problem, but will instead only complicate the situation and threaten regional stability.  

China has also indignantly rejected Western demands to be more cooperative in isolating Iran. The strongly nationalist English language Global Times, for example, warned this month that the “retaliatory revenge from the West,” ignited by the storming of the British Embassy in Tehran, was “likely to plunge Iran into a bottomless abyss of war.”  

The Global Times also took aim at the latest U. S. Senate bill vowing to penalize all foreign financial institutions that do business with Iran’s central bank. While condemning the violence at the British Embassy, the semi-official paper wondered whether this would justify the full-scale subversion of Iran by the West. “China has no obligation to mess up the situation, especially as the EU and the U.S. try to take the opportunity to overthrow Iran for their own interests,” the editorial continued. It added disapprovingly that despite the West suffering an economic crisis, its efforts to overthrow non-western governments for political and military interests remain undiminished. China and Russia should, it said, remain on high alert and adopt countermeasures.  

A week later, the Chinese language edition of the paper upped the ante, arguing that Iran is vitally important to the survival of China and Russia, and that Tehran can say “no” to the United States and help block American domination of the Middle East.  

January 5, 2012 at 07:27

Perhaps the US and China should strike a grand bargain and allow Iran to have it’s nuke. They will use it to dominate the middle east and a large chunk of the world economy but hey, at least China will get it’s oil. The US could then help Japan and South Korea build a bomb. Sound good?

yang zi
December 28, 2011 at 02:44

typo, I meant show some leadership

yang zi
December 28, 2011 at 02:43

In view of recent reckless actions by US, China should be aggressive in fimding a peaceful solution to Iran, should some leadership and principle in peace. This will win some hearts.

December 27, 2011 at 19:43

Not a bad article. It does not, however stress Iran’s role as a bad actor in their neighborhood.

Iran directly financed and provided a tremendous amount of support to insurgent groups within Iraq during the US war there. A significant proportion of both Iraqi and coalition personnel were killed by weapons and technology both paid for and provided by the Iranians.

Were it not for Iranian malfeasance, the war in Iraq proabably could have ended a year or two earlier than it did.

The US, in general, downplayed this due to a desire to not have to take direct military action within Iran. Frankly, they were busy enough dealing with both Iraq and Afghanistan at the time.

John Chan
December 27, 2011 at 11:01

If China expects quid pro quo from the predatory imperialist USA, that means China government has lost ball and they didn’t lean a single thing from Libya. Russia and China only gave consent to establish a No-Fly zone over Libya, yet NATO turn the No-Fly zone mandate into a total bombing and killing destruction frenzy in Libya. NATO’s trustworthy is zip.

USA politic is Al Capone politic, it only understands eye to eye teeth to teeth plus interest, conciliation to USA is nothing but weakness to be preyed on.

December 27, 2011 at 06:03

Your so called “ally” will, if it acquires nuclear weapons, wage an aggressive war of annihilation against one of our allies. Whether you like it or not this is counter to your country’s interests. A massive spike in oil prices will hit you just as hard as it would hit Europe, but unlike the Europeans, you are too paranoid to understand that not everything the US does is harmful to China.

yang zi
December 27, 2011 at 05:41

this is a rather simplistic view. Iran will never be a friend of west no matter what, its religious roots and pride will almosts make it an independent country. A shah will not last.

To the energy supply, Iran sells oil to countries like Japan, s Korea and India. A stoppage of oil from Iran will cause oil price skyrocket, China is not the only country suffers.

A nuclear Iran might be stabilizing actually, but the country’s radical ideology makes it dangerous. A quick strike might be ok, as long as it is followed by a relaxation of sanctions.

If I were Iran, I would allow inspectors come in, just relieve some tension, but it might become a circus like when inspectors in Iraq.

John Hollis
December 26, 2011 at 23:50

US history against China is well known to everyone. US considers people of China the only winning card to be used against the ruling party for staring havoc in such a masive country and population. That is the main goal. from US point of veiw China must lose track and never allowed to become a superpower.

To creat unease amongst Chinese population, energy is the key! Starve China from Energy and everything will collapse and people will rise!

Iran is the most important key for US to take out if US is to have full control of ALL arab countires for oil and gas. Without Iran, China will have no choice but to be at the mercy of US for very bit of energy that comes out of middle East. Not only that, China will loose a VITAL ally for any progress in that area including culture, trade etc etc.

Once regime change takes place in Iran, China will find a similar regime to Shah’s regime sitting on the enegry life line of China with their hand on the tap.

Hence, sitting on the fense or trading drew back of US presence in asia pacific against less support of Iran by China is not a good dela for Cina at all. It is far over due for China to demonstrate to the world that China can protect her interest and friends whenver necessary, something US has done well for her partners.

China must demonstrate a clear and resolute attutude to lies from Israel, US, UK and France about using Iran’s nuclear issue for their direct gains.

Russia is not an exception to this situation either. They will heavily lose once Iran is lost.

This is defenately Chnia’s last chance to stand up NOW and be counted before it is too late!

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