Persian gulf [By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn]
Beijing's recent refusal to support more stringent US sanctions against Iran, as requested by Secretary Timothy Geithner during his recent visit to China, together with the recent US announcement of sanctions against a Chinese oil firm, have served to underscore existing differences between China and the US on the Iran nuclear issue. China and the US remain divided on how to resolve this issue. However, both countries agree that Iran should not have nuclear weapons.
The US views the promotion of Western democracy as the means to addressing problems in both the Middle East and the world at large. In essence, the US regards Western democracy as a panacea for all global problems, and also sees it as a means of achieving its own geopolitical purposes. The Iran nuclear issue is a prime example of this.
Iran has not become a political hot-button issue because of the belief that the Islamic republic will soon possess a nuclear weapon. Rather, the Iran nuclear issue has become an increasing problem due to US and Israeli antipathy towards Iran's Islamic regime, both because of its authoritarian nature and its hostility toward both the US and Israel. Karim Sadjapour, an Iranian American Carnegie scholar once said that a nuclear Iran which was friendly toward the US would be acceptable to the US, whereas a radical Iran, even without nuclear weapons, would not.
The US has refrained from resolving the thorny issue via military means for many reasons, including its lack of resources. However, this does not mean that the US is not minded to overthrow Iran's Islamic regime in order to solve the nuclear issue once and for all. Confusing the nuclear issue with the issue of Iran's regime has actually complicated the conflict between Iran and the US. Iran's intransigence is more of a response to the US' ambition of regime change rather than a reaction to a nuclear dispute.
Western officials, scholars and media have long regarded China as an obstacle to the West's efforts to resolve the Iran nuclear issue. Their belief that China's energy cooperation with Iran has diluted such efforts is an extremely narrow-minded one.
China's approach to the issue is certainly different. However, China has always behaved responsibly. In contrast to the West, China observes the Iran nuclear issue through the lens of its peaceful development strategy. China's adherence to peaceful principles is due to both its tradition and its pragmatic considerations.
China has been a target of Western sanctions for many years, and is even now discriminated against in its trade relations with the West. China has no reason to support one country in its sanctions against another.
Furthermore, it should be understood that China's peaceful approach does not stem from a simple opposition to the use of military means in resolving the Iran nuclear issue. It is true that the steady flow of oil from both Iran and other Middle East oil producers is important to China's interests. However, it is not the only consideration. China does not wish to see the already fragile Middle East situation exacerbated by another war. The Middle East is also an important market for Chinese commodities, but China also views global peace and stability as being closely linked to its domestic development.
Cooperation between China and the US has always been an important factor in addressing major international concerns, and the Iran nuclear issue is no exception. However, such cooperation should not be interpreted as China's explicit or implicit compliance with the US, or China's unswerving acceptance of the US approach. As we have seen, sanctions and diplomatic isolation have not solved the Middle East's problems. Military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have all created disorder in those countries.
It seems that the US and its Western allies have always had high expectations for China's cooperation, and China has cooperated significantly in the past by voting for resolutions which led to sanctions against Iran. There is no question that China will cooperate further in the future. But it should be noted that the Chinese and US positions differ on principle. China's Middle East policy starts from its peaceful development strategy while the US begins with the promotion of democracy.
This will necessarily limit China's cooperation. After all, how can Beijing support a policy which is at variance with its own principles and interests and has already been proven wrong?
The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/jinliangxiang.htm
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