Tuesday, May 18, 2010

China Weighs in on the Iran/Turkey/Brazil Agreement

Update

If the U.S. can't sabotage the ITB agreement, it will do its best to ignore it.

According to the Guardian.

A new set of United Nations sanctions are almost certain to be imposed on Iran next month, after Russia and China today agreed to support punitive action against Tehran's military and financial institutions, according to a security council source.

The Russian and Chinese move came as a surprise to the US and Britain, who had been braced for several more weeks of negotiation. Moscow and Beijing have over the last few months been either lukewarm or downright opposed to the idea of sanctions. The Obama administration has been working for months try to bring China and Russia round.
...

A draft security council resolution was agreed early today by the five permanent members of the security council – the US, Britain, China, Russia and France. The resolution is to be sent to the other 10 members of the council later today.

Hmmm.

I would speculate that the United States was very anxious to get this draft circulated in order to counteract the news of the ITB agreement. So maybe some hurried caving in to Chinese reservations provoked the "surprise".

China, for its part, has frequently expressed its support for the "two-track" process, so I suppose it would be awkward for Beijing to hold up the drafting process if the draft reflected most of its stated concerns.

However, China knows perfectly well that watering down the UN sanctions doesn't solve the problem.

The United States has gone out of its way to telegraph its position that harsher national and EU sanctions are a certainty once an enabling UN resolution is out of the way, as the Washington Post tells us:

Diplomats said that some of the proposed language in the current resolution was added with the full knowledge that it would be removed by the Russians and Chinese -- but then could be revived in the European resolution. The individual country sanctions would come after the European Union has acted and would be led by the United States, Britain, France, Germany and other like-minded nations, diplomats said.

So, the United States strategy could be rephrased as "meaningless sanctions through the UN to enable meaningful national sanctions (without any meaningful Chinese input) down the road."

By spurning the ITB deal, the United States has committed itself to the sanctions route.

Given America's enthusiasm for playing geopolitical chicken with China on this issue, I think Beijing will probably blink, keep its head down, and perhaps even vote for UN sanctions despite the consequences.

Beijing might be thinking that national sanctions would simply drive Iran further into the PRC camp. However, given the Pandora's box element of runaway national sanctions, I doubt China's leaders welcome the unpredictable risk and confrontation they involve (a caution that it might be wise for the Obama administration to emulate).

It is more likely that China will encourage diplomacy over the next few weeks, console Turkey and Brazil (who are undoubtedly insulted at the United States' dismissive treatment of their initiative), and try to sort out the geopolitical wreckage to its advantage if and when sanctions do come down.

Original post below:

They like it.

In addition to having the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman speak positively of the agreement at the regular press conference, the MOFA drew special attention to it by extracting remarks Foreign Minister Yang Jiezhi made at to Chinese and Tunisian reporters (the president of Tunisia is visiting Beijing) and posting it as a separate statement on its Chinese language page.

Yang stated China had noted reports concerning the agreement negotiated between Iran, Turkey, and Brazil and "welcomed and appreciated" the diplomatic efforts of the involved parties.

In Chinese, the phrase is, "欢迎和赞赏".

欢迎--the well-known "huanying" or "welcome"--is pretty much meaningless diplomatic puffery.

赞赏 on the other hand, is quite a positive term. It means "appreciate and admire" and is just one degree short of "endorse".

Since China wasn't a party to the agreement, they wouldn't have been likely to use the term "endorse" in any case.

There was no mention of the process-related reservations and suspicions that all the other permanent Security Council members including Russia chose to voice.

The dominant theme for Yang's statement was the success of diplomacy, which, in this context, is an implied criticism of excessive reliance on sanctions.

He concluded his statement with the remark

中方愿意与有关各方一道为推动伊核问题的外交解决发挥建设性作用。

"The Chinese side is willing to work together with the concerned parties to play a constructive role in the diplomatic resolution of the Iran issue."

All in all, a strong Chinese statement of support and a sign that China is calling for more attention to the diplomacy side of dual track as the US labors to shift the focus back to the sanctions track.

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