Sunday, April 04, 2010

On Iranian Nuclear Bombs, Can We Really Trust China?

In a previous post, I mentioned the Anglo-Chinese talk on Iran. I said that China was reluctant to impose sanctions on Iran, because the Beijing government needs to satisfy voracious demand for oil to pursue continual economic expansion. Shortly after the meeting, the Chinese government decided to join Western powers to denounce Iranian adherence to the nuclear enrichment program. However, China’s commitment to stop Iranian nuclear project is quite doubtful. Let me review recent news briefly.

China has overturned its long time reluctance to punish Iran, and begun to join talks on sanctions against nuclear proliferation at UN Security Council. A White House Spokesman Bill Burton takes it a positive sign toward real progress (“Beijing agrees to talks on sanctions for Iran”; Financial Times, April 1, 2010). US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told that China agreed to work closely with the United States, France, Germany, and Russia to impose tougher sanctions on Iran. Meanwhile, Iran sent a nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili to Beijing to ease international pressure. The negotiation for the sanction will take a few months, as Russia and China prefer softer measures than those insisted by the West (“Iran envoy in China as sanctions push builds”; Washington Post; April 1, 2010).

In reply to Western request, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said "China opposes Iran possessing nuclear weapons, but at the same time we believe that, as a sovereign state, Iran has the right to develop nuclear energy in a peaceful way" (“World powers discuss sanctions on Iran, no consensus yet”; Xinhua; March 31, 2010).

President Barack Obama emphasized importance of unified pressure on Iran, but China still expresses reluctance for tough measures. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said, "Negotiations should be conducted with logic, not with pressure. If negotiations and pressure occur at the same time there's no way these negotiations can go forward" (“Obama urges China to back Iran nuclear sanctions”; Guardian; 2 April 2010). President Obama will host the Nuclear Security Summit on April 12 and 13, and discuss this issue with President Hu Jintao of China (“China Visit Suggests Thaw Over Iran, Yuan”; Wall Street Journal; April 2, 2010).

Though China and Russia are not willing to accept the demand for earlier sanctions by the United States, Britain, France, and Germany, Obama is confident of broad international consensus for pressuring Iran (“Obama confident of securing broad support for more U.N. sanctions against Iran”; Washington Post; April 3, 2010).

Is it likely to inflict critical impacts on Iran? An Israeli paper casts doubt on a joint pressure endorsed by UN Security Council. As China and Russia oppose hard sanctions, Iranian overseas assets, shipping service, and oil and gas exports remain unaffected. (“International push for Iran sanctions is too little, too late”; Haaretz; April 2, 2010)

James Phillips, Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, says that it is unlikely for the Security Council to pass sanctions against Iran, in view of Chinese and Russian foot dragging. He argues that halfway measures acceptable to Russia and China hardly impose effects on the Tehran theocracy. Therefore, Phillips insists on adopting hard measures with European allies, such as cutting oil exports from Iran. Phillips points out that French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested tougher approaches with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel beyond Russian and Chinese approval, when he talked with President Obama in Washington (“Iran Economic Sanctions at the U.N. Security Council: The Incredible Shrinking Resolution”; Heritage Web Memo; April 2, 2010).

In any case, I do not believe it helpful to spend a long time to wait for Chinese and Russian approval. Particularly, China is not willing to sacrifice its economic growth for the sake of global public interest, as shown in COP Copenhagen Conference. Current regime of Iran is associated with terrorists in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and that is trying to develop nuclear weapons. President Obama needs to reconsider his engagement policy, and Iran is a vital case.