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Sunday, November 18

"Iran has become the engineer of China's economic growth"

Beijing needs to update their outmoded policy on Iran but before I elaborate here are excerpts from the report I'm pondering:
Deepening China-Iran Ties Weaken Bid to Isolate Iran by Robin Wright
Washington Post, Sunday, November 18, 2007

The rapidly growing relationship between Iran and China has begun to undermine international efforts to ensure that Iran cannot convert a peaceful energy program to develop a nuclear arsenal, U.S. and European officials say.

The Bush administration and its allies said last week that they plan to seek new U.N. sanctions against Iran, after the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iranian officials had given inadequate answers to questions about the country's past nuclear activities. But U.S. and European officials now worry more about a Chinese veto than about opposition from Russia, which has previously assisted and defended the Iranian nuclear energy program.

U.S. and European officials charged Friday that Beijing is deliberately stalling to protect its economic interests. [...]

China now gets at least 14 percent of its imported oil from Iran, making it China's largest supplier and the source of as much as $7 billion worth of oil this year, according to David Kirsch, a manager at PFC Energy. Tehran in turn gets major arms systems from Beijing, including ballistic and cruise missiles and technical assistance for Tehran's indigenous missile program. Dozens of Chinese companies are also engaged in several other industries.

On the eve of Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi's visit to Tehran last week for talks with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Beijing suggested that it could reject U.S.-orchestrated efforts for a new resolution. "We believe that all parties should show patience and sincerity over this issue, while any sanctions, particularly unilateral sanctions, will do no good," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao. [...]

But the new Tehran-Beijing relationship is likely to further delay or dilute international diplomacy, because the two powers share a strategic vision, experts say. Both are determined to find ways to contain unchallenged U.S. power and a unipolar world, said Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council.

China's voracious appetite for energy has cemented the relationship, U.S. experts say. China's oil consumption is expected to grow by about 6 percent over the next two years, analysts have said.

"Iran has become the engineer of China's economic growth. It may not be like Saudi Arabia is to the U.S. economy, but it's close," Berman said. [...]
I think China's leaders are not so much playing ostrich as practicing Scarlett O'Hara logic. They know that a nuclear-armed Iran would further destabilize the Middle East and could result in the interruption of critical energy supplies to China. But all that for tomorrow; right now China is greatly dependent on Iran and so is dancing to Tehran's tune.

As to China using Iran to challenge US power: if Beijing's military is indeed continuing with that 1990s geostrategy, the military needs to get more in synch with today's energy realities for China. China's skyrocketing energy requirements means that since the 1990s the power in the relationship has shifted from China to Iran. China can no longer manipulate Iran; it's now the other way around. China's generals need to think about that, if they are still determined to use Iran as a pawn against the United States.

They also need to think about the true ground rules in the US-Saudi Arabia relationship. The Saudis keep the lid on things at OPEC and keep their oil flowing. The United States stands ready to protect Saudi Arabia against an invasion. Is China willing to develop the same ground rules with Iran? Does Beijing honestly believe it would be in their best interest to set themselves against most of the world in order to play Iran's military defender?

Robin Wright reports in the same article that the analyst she quoted thinks the US should offer big carrots to China if we want the country to change their Iran policy:
"We're presenting China with an untenable proposition. We're asking them to unilaterally divest from Iran and not offering them energy alternatives. This is not sustainable for policy-makers whose predominant priority is to maintain and expand their country's growth," [Ilan] Berman said. "It's not that we shouldn't ask them to scale back their relationship, but China has put a lot of its eggs in Iran's economic basket, and a sophisticated American strategy would provide alternatives."
Actually, a sophisticated American strategy would be to offer India big help in their quest for energy supplies. And to strengthen US ties with Russia.
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