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China Defends Its Approval of Iran UN Sanctions Draft
...And then does some walkback
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My last word, at least for the time being, on China and the Iran UN sanctions resolution process, is in an article at Asia Times entitled, China plays lapdog in sanctions ploy.


I link to the article in a blog post that also summarizes its conclusions: China Plays Skillful Hand on Iran Sanctions.

CH 5/24/10

Rolling updates:

I’m dumping updates at the top in roughly chronological order with local timestamps.

19 May 2010 20.00 BST From the Guardian, another sign that the resolution draft was rushed in an atmosphere of incipient panic:

Various annexes of the draft resolution relating to travel bans and asset freezes for individuals, groups and banks have yet to be agreed.

The article, reporting that the NPT conference is nearing deadlock, goes far to confirm my pet theory that Iran sanctions are being pushed in order to obtain Israel’s participation in NPT Revcon.

The Asahi Shimbun, May 19 (posted on English language website on 5/20) weighs in with an editorial calling for the Brazil/Turkey deal to be pursued–with demands for more LEU and an enrichment freeze.

Continuing the enrichment program, meanwhile, will inevitably cause the stockpile to grow again. Any guarantee of peaceful use requires that all the uranium be routed outside of Iranian territory, while halting the enrichment work. Terms toward that end must be hammered out through diplomatic channels.

Both Brazil and Turkey are currently nonpermanent members of the Security Council. We hope that permanent council members and Germany, which have principally handled the negotiations with Iran to date, will bolster their cooperation with Brazil and Turkey in a serious push to win over Tehran.

Japan is increasingly used by the U.S. for wet work it doesn’t want to be associated with officially. Also, Amano, a Japanese bureaucrat, is head of the IAEA. Maybe we’re looking at a contingency plan: if the ITB swap deal gains too much traction (as appears to be happening; President Obama made a call to Erdogan to express what I think was rather insincere appreciation for the Turkey/Brazil initiative), unimpeachable third parties try to sink it by demanding new and difficult-to-fulfill concessions from Iran.

May 19,2010 New York Times reports that Russia is making positive noises about the ITB swap deal and giving Secretary Clinton a fine headache in the bargain. Details on the negotiations reveal that the final agreement on the draft was only reached in the last few days as the swap deal was imminent. The US certainly wasn’t in its strongest negotiating position as the U.S. was desperate for a draft, any draft, so it could regain the initiative on sanctions.

If politics is like making sausage, this is the part when the dead rats are shoveled into the meatgrinder.

An official in the Russian Foreign Ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity under ministry rules, said Mr. Lavrov placed a call to Mrs. Clinton after learning of her announcement on Tuesday night. The official said Russia views Tehran’s proposal to enrich uranium in Turkey as very similar to a deal brokered in October by the International Atomic Energy Agency, but acknowledged that Washington is skeptical.

“Our position is, give them another chance,” the Russian official said. “We should take into account this demonstration of readiness by Iran.”

The agreement came months later than the administration had hoped, and after a hectic week of diplomacy, capped by a last-minute phone call by Mrs. Clinton to Mr. Lavrov, to confirm whether Moscow was on board, a senior American official said.

The United States believed that it was close to a deal last week, said the official, who did not want to be identified by name while discussing internal negotiations. But it could not resolve the final points with Russia over conventional, nonnuclear arms sales to Iran, and with China over its energy investments there.

12:16 19/05/2010 Back in Brazil, President Lula declines to comment on the apparent switch of Russia and China to the sanctions track after they had expressed support for the swap agreement. Per Agencia Brasil via Babelfish:

When answering the journalists on the change of position of Russia and China on the sanctions – the two countries had given support to the agreement and later they had been of the North American side – Lula limited himself to say it that “they are great friends (são grandes amigos)”.

As a sign of its dissatisfaction with the continued sanctions process despite the announcement of the fuel swap agreement, Brazil’s ambassador did not attend the UNSC’s closed-door discussions on the resolution draft on Tuesday.

20:01 18.05.10 As for China’s line of “we kept Iran informed”, a passage from Reuters via Haaretz implies this is not the case:

On Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki expressed surprise when asked about the draft sanctions resolution.

When asked by a Reuters reporter what Iran’s reaction would be to the resolution, Mottaki said in English: “Are you sure?”

After an assurance that major powers had agreed the draft, Mottaki said: “Don’t take it serious”. He then walked away.

Mottaki was attending a meeting in the Tajik capital Dushanbe of foreign ministers from the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

02:20 19/05/2010 The English-language text from Novosti makes it clear that Lavrov’s qualms referenced below relate to part but not all of the anticipated national sanctions–possibly relating to America’s love for the Proliferation Security Initiative which, if ever completely implemented would permit foreign flag vessels to stopped and searched on the high seas:

…unilateral sanctions would include measures “of an extraterritorial nature, beyond the agreed decisions of the international community and contradicting the principle of the rule of the international law, enshrined in the UN Charter.”

No excuse for China to disregard the national sanctions threat here.

Per a lengthy article in Xinhua, as of 2010年05月19日 17:36:51 the theme is 以压促和: Using pressure to promote peace i.e. The pressure of the sanctions process is presented as a legitimate means to promote efforts by Iran to restore international trust.

The piece takes another step toward incorporating the ITB deal into the UN sanctions process (and getting China out from behind the eightball) by reporting that Brazil and Turkey are opposed to a sanctions process that ignores their agreement with Iran and their no votes would be an embarrassment to the United States. Article quotes German wonk as saying the choice is up to Iran. If it uses the excuse of the circulation of the sanctions draft to drop the swap, it will have lost an opportunity (thereby implying that executing the agreement will affect the sanctions process). America will not be pleased, but maybe China will find some wiggle room by saying the swap has to be taken into account at least tactically in order to respect the feelings (and win the votes) of Brazil and Turkey.

2010年05月19日 21:29:44 Xinhua reports on a conversation between Lavrov and Clinton, with the Russians emphasizing that unilateral sanctions beyond UN sanctions would exceed the framework of the resolution agreed upon unanimously by international society and would go against the principle in the UN Constitution concerning the primacy of international law”.


Standing up for the UN and international law is a political non-starter in the USA, so this argument would presumably do little more than provide political cover to Russia and China.

According to IRNA: Tehran, May 19 Iran chides the P5+1 for the sanctions draft, implicitly acknowledging China’s involvement but not calling it out by name

Global Times interviews a previous Chinese ambassador to Iran, Hua Liming, who says “Iran certainly will be unhappy” but claims that since all the other members of the P5+1 were calling for sanctions, China had to respond accordingly. He says that Iran should appreciate China’s efforts from the “complexity” of the draft.

Bottom line: China protects its key interests and gives Iran the assurance that it absolutely will not agree to the use of force to resolve the Iran issue. Message: Iran will certainly indicate displeasure but the overall Iran/China relationship will not be affected.

Awkward question of squelching the ITB agreement not directly addressed

but indirectly acknowledged by observation that it looks like UNSC non-permanent members Turkey and Brazil won’t agree to sanctions.

Judging from the comments, Chinese netizens–at least the subset that gets to comment on articles in Global Times–are, for the most part, not happy.


It’s no use. There are too many people in the party with a tilt toward the United States.



So you want to lead the life of a whore and have a ceremonial arch erected to commemorate your chastity! Don’t think the Chinese people don’t see and understand what’s going on!

Any country that befriends China will end up the loser.


We’ve lost a friend and gained an enemy.


When you drop stones on somebody who’s fallen in a well, you’re worse than a pig or a dog.


Once Iran is sanctioned, America will start to classify China as a currency-manipulating country. When the bird is shot, the fine bow is put away; when the rabbit is caught, the hunting dog goes into the cooking pot. Wake up, comrades!


In a slightly more representative sample, Global Times’ on-line poll asked “Do you think Iran will retaliate for China’s support of sanctions”, 4000 respondents–72%–said yes.

In the same issue, one Tang Zhichao, Deputy Director of the Asia and Africa Institute of the Academy of Contemporary International Relations 中国现代国际关系研究院亚非所副所长 hopefully opines that President Obama isn’t really serious about sanctions.

Original post:

Global Times Chinese Edition ran a lengthy Xinhua article defending China’s decision to approve the draft resolution on Iran sanctions “as revealed by a knowledgeable party at the Chinese Embassy to the UN”.

From the title onward, there is no ambiguity about China’s position: “China agrees to draft resolution to sanction Iran”.

While leading with the defensive statement, “Although the draft was circulated, the door to diplomatic efforts is still open”, the Xinhua article offers no pushback to the U.S. position on sanctions or the timing of the resolution; it simply endorses the draft, stating “We have no objection (literally, “we hold no divergent opinion”) to this UNSC draft resolution”我们对这安理会散发决议草案不持异议。, and confirming that it will be voted on within three weeks,

The document also hopefully referenced a “strategic partnership” between Russia and China and asserted that China had kept in touch in a timely manner with all parties and enjoyed universal approbation.

The article’s position is questionable in light of Turkey’s assertion that sanctions were no longer necessary because of the agreement that Lula and Erdogan had visited Tehran to conclude.

Brazil also not pleased, as the Washington Post tells us:

But Brazilian and Turkish officials were outraged at Clinton’s announcement just one day after they had secured a pledge from Iran to ship some of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Turkey. Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, the Brazilian ambassador to the United Nations, denounced the U.S. move, saying that Brazil “will not engage on any draft resolution” and that there “is still room for negotiations.”

It appears that China got in deep in negotiations with the United States, had already abandoned its position opposing sanctions–in fact had already agreed to the draft–and was caught flatfooted by the Iran/Turkey/Brazil agreement and by Washington’s dash to pre-empt the news of the deal with the accelerated sanctions push.

The United States rushed out an announcement of the resolution agreement faster than Russia (and one would imagine Beijing) wanted it, according to the Wall Street Journal:

The agreement on a draft U.N. resolution was reached within the last several days. Senior administration officials said its unveiling was timed as a direct response to the Turkish-Brazilian pact, in which Tehran renewed an offer to swap much of its nuclear fuel outside its borders for enrichment.

Russian ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin told reporters that Russia would have preferred to wait a day or two after the Brazil-Iranian deal, but the U.S. wanted to put it on the table right away.

Western officials feared that the deal reached in Tehran could throw up new hurdles to the already-delayed sanctions regime.

In testimony before Congress, Secretary Clinton provided the money quote, explicitly linking the draft resolution (and China) to the repudiation of Iran’s diplomatic initiatives:

“This announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken in Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide.”

I have a feeling that the United States has no regrets about humiliating China with the rushed announcement, perhaps as revenge for China’s embarrassing the U.S. at the Copenhagen climate conference or as a conscious effort to undercut China’s pretensions to leadership in the developing world and as Iran’s protector.

If so, Secretary Clinton’s action will be long remembered in Beijing.

But, if the U.S. hurry to circulate the draft is understandable, China’s apparent haste in endorsing the action so publicly and categorically is rather inexplicable.

It is surprising that China, which cares so much for its prestige and public image–its bella figura, as the Italians call it–allow itself to appear to such a disadvantage.

Tehran’s English-language media reported on the circulation of the sanctions draft–but not China’s role.

Certainly, Tehran will be interested to hear why China could not–or did not–keep the draft from circulating for a few days and give the Iran/Turkey/Brazil deal a chance to accummulate some public-relations momentum.

Beyond the issue of the TRR fuel deal, virtually every article in the US media emphasizes that watered-down UNSC sanctions are needed simply to enable harsher national and EU sanctions.

One wonders if Tehran will appreciate China’s celebration of its negotiating heroics at the UNSC–which were probably more to China’s benefit than Iran’s–or regard Beijing’s sign-off on the sanctions draft resolution as a prelude to Western sanctions and a betrayal.

Perhaps developments in the next few days will yield some answers.

In any case, it will take some effort and explaining if China is to regain the catbird seat on Iran–a position that I thought it was comfortably occupying as recently as last week.

If only for the sake of appearances, some post-facto Chinese hedging is apparently called for.

Two hours after the first Xinhua article appeared, judging by the timestamp, Li Baozhong, China’s ambassador to the UN, attempted to rescue the situation by offering fulsome praise for the Turkish/Brazilian initiative and expressing deep concern for the wellbeing of the Iranian people:

We attach great importance to, and welcome the agreement signed by Brazil and Turkey with Iran on the supply of fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. This is a positive step taken in the proper direction. We hope the various parties will grasp this opportunity, find a suitable method of resolution, and prevent the intensification of contradictions…On the question of Iran sanctions, we talk on the basis of principles: sanctions cannot affect energy supply, cannot affect routine trade and economic relations, and cannot affect the normal lives of the Iranian people…”



By midday Beijing time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Chinese-language website was carrying a statement that Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi had spoken with the foreign ministers of Brazil and Turkey to express China’s appreciation for their mediation–while reaffirming China’s continued support for the “two track” process.

People’s Daily ran a report in English on Yang’s calls.

Interestingly, as of midday May 19 in Beijing, the MOFA website carried no news or statement about the circulation of the draft or the Chinese role. As far as I could tell, People’s Daily English and Chinese editions didn’t either.

By the time the Xinhua article made it into English in truncated form, it had a new title: Draft sanctions resolution on Iran does not mean end of diplomatic efforts: diplomatic source and did not explicitly mention China’s approval of the contents of the draft resolution.

Returning to the original Xinhua article, one question is why the Chinese official media charged into print and went a long way toward publicly locking in China’s support for UN sanctions at a time when it might have been more politic to keep silent and see how the chips fell.

Perhaps it contains in large part the standard diplomatic jibber-jabber prepared some time ago to set out China’s position on sanctions, but looks rather unpersuasive when viewed in the context of quashing the Iran/Brazil/Turkey initiative.

The article took considerable pains to assert it got a good deal “over 20 rounds of two-party discussions” between the US and Chinese representatives, and also make public the “red lines’ that will keep sanctions within limits.

But the upside of the situation for China is difficult to see.

The article identified four major points and provided explanations/justifications for each.

Point 1:

China acts on principle. It is opposed to nuclear proliferation and the possession of nuclear weapons by Iran.

“At the same time” China affirmed the dual track strategy and “the discussion of the draft of the six nations concerning sanctions should not affect the peace and stability or influence the recovery of the international economy.


Point 2:

China’s important interests are maintained. China’s important interests are…in the matters of Iran’s energy, trade, and financial sectors. China believes that normal economics and trade should not be punished because of the Iran question nor should those countries that maintain normal, legal economic relations with Iran be punished…Through negotiations, this point was satisfied, doing a relatively good job of upholding China’s…important interests.


Point 3:

Maintaining China’s image as a responsible great power…China has repeatedly emphasized although the six nations are discussing sanctions in New York, diplomatic efforts should becompletely unaffected. The door to diplomatic efforts has not been closed…China’s consistently positive and constructive attitude has gained the favorable comment of the concerned nations.


Point 4:

China has energetically tended to good relations with the various parties…During the course of discussions we have maintained good communications with the various parties, including Iran. We have reported relevant circumstances to the concerned party Iran in a timely manner. We have encouraged and supported Iran’s expansion of cooperation with international society. The most recent conclusion of an agreement of Brazil and Turkey with Iran for the swap of nuclear fuel was also the result of China supporting diplomatic efforts and creating the space and time for diplomatic efforts. This also includes obtaining precious time for the Brazilian and Turkish leaders to go to iran to engage in diplomatic efforts and achieve a positive result. Therefore, the representatives of both Brazil and Turkey have in various venues and through different channels expressed thanks to China. At the same time, Iran has also indicated that this is also the result of the work done by China’s leadership on the Iran side, actively urging and promoting discussions.


Furthermore, it was stressed that China would ensure that non-permanent members of the UNSC would have enough time to study the draft resolution after it was circulated; a vote in about three weeks.

“Thanks to the joint efforts of China and Russia”, the draft also includes references to “do not approve of use of force or threat of force”, maintain international economic rights and responsibilities” and reflects the “dual track” approach of having sanctions content while also supporting and encouraging diplomatic efforts”.


(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: China, Iran, UN Security Council 
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