China, Iran should stand together against ‘unilateralism and bullying’, Wang Yi says

Laura Zhou

Beijing and Tehran should stand together against “unilateralism and bullying”, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Iranian counterpart in the Chinese capital on Tuesday.

“The unilateral withdrawal by the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, giving up on its international commitment and [attempts] to exert maximum pressure on Iran are the sources of the current tension arising over the Iranian nuclear issue,” a statement from China’s foreign ministry quoted Wang as saying to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif when the pair met in Beijing.

Wang was referring to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal under which Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the US agreed to lift sanctions on Tehran in exchange for limiting its nuclear programme.

US President Donald Trump walked away from the deal last year, saying it was a flawed agreement. After Iran rejected US demands to stop enriching all uranium and halt its support for militant groups in the region, Washington reimposed economic sanctions on the country including an oil export ban.

During talks in Beijing, Wang Yi (right) told Mohammad Javad Zarif (left) that China would “oppose any unilateralism and bullying behaviour”. Photo: Reuters

Wang told Zarif, who arrived in Beijing after a visit to Moscow, that the parties involved in the pact should “withstand external pressure and deal with disputes through dialogue and negotiations in order to continue safeguarding and implementing the comprehensive deal”.

“China will firmly defend international justice and fairness, and oppose any unilateralism and bullying behaviour to push for a political and diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue,” Wang, who is also a State Councillor, told Zarif.

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The Iranian foreign minister replied that Tehran would “keep close communication with China … to safeguard each other’s legitimate rights and interests”, according to the Chinese statement.

It also said Zarif had briefed Beijing on the latest developments on the Iranian nuclear issue.

The visit by Zarif – his fourth to Beijing this year – came just a day after China, Russia and Iran wrapped up their first trilateral naval drill in the northern Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman. The war games were the latest sign of China and Russia stepping up coordination as both countries come under pressure from the United States.

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily briefing that relations between China and Russia were the “most mutual, the most secure and most reliable” and the neighbours would try to increase “strategic communication and coordination” in a changing world in 2020.

The Trump administration has implemented what it said were “the toughest ever” economic, trade, scientific, military and banking sanctions against Iran, which prohibit countries or companies from doing business with the US if they trade or deal with the country.

In October, state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation reportedly pulled out of a US$5 billion deal to develop an offshore natural gas field in Iran.

Chinese observers said that while the US sanctions were likely to hurt China’s oil imports and its investment in Iran, Beijing would tread a fine line between Washington and Tehran.

“China may also try to urge Iran to avoid escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf and keep stability in the region while remaining patient,” said Ma Xiaolin, a Middle Eastern affairs expert at Zhejiang International Studies University.

Iran, meanwhile, was “unlikely to compromise … and may seek to pressure the other five signatories to counterbalance the US”, Ma said, adding that Tehran may also be waiting to see what happens after the US presidential election in 2020.

Additional reporting by Jun Mai

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