Monday, May 24, 2010

China Plays a Skillful Hand on Iran Sanctions

China has welcomed the inference that it abhors further sanctions on Iran.

Therefore, China's willingness not only to join the UN sanctions team, but also to acquiesce in the rushed release of the draft sanctions resolution in order to squelch the Iran-Turkey-Brazil nuclear fuel swap agreement--a diplomatic advance that, in the minds of the three parties, at least, provided ample justification for postponing the sanctions discussions at the UN Security Council--is cause for some puzzled head-scratching.

I tackle the problem in an Asia Times article with the rather saucy title, China plays lapdog in sanctions ploy.

Actually the article is a rather sober piece of seeking-truth-from-facts Kremlinology based on a painstaking parsing of several important articles in the semi-official Chinese local and English language press.

I conclude that China decided that the main risk to its orderly dealings with Iran was runaway U.S. national sanctions targeting the Chinese banking system; and the best way to defuse that threat was to support UN sanctions and thereby make it politically costly for the Obama administration to go far beyond the UN sanctions and gore China's economic ox.

China's support for UN sanctions was, therefore, foreordained.

The ITB announcement was awkward for Beijing's public diplomacy, but convenient for its dealings with the United States: threatened with the ITB deal, sanctions resolution negotiations over the last days assumed something of a fire-sale atmosphere, with Russia and China getting the best of it.

I conclude with the observation that China's strategy may well be understood, if not greatly appreciated, by Iran as the best way to muddle through the current mess.

I also conjecture that the Obama administration may even be grateful for China's participation, since the need to moderate US sanctions in order to keep China on board prevents the whole anti-Iran effort from degenerating into a scorched-earth fiasco.

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