OpinionIran in the World PressTalk is more likely than action from China over...

Talk is more likely than action from China over Iran sanctions

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ImageThe Times: The White House has said that China will back tighter UN sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme. Really? Or is this just wishful thinking? Unfortunately, from Beijing on this subject, talk is more likely than action. The Times

Bronwen Maddox

ImageThe White House has said that China will back tighter UN sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme. Really? Or is this just wishful thinking? Unfortunately, from Beijing on this subject, talk is more likely than action.

For seven months China has refused to join a drive for a fourth round of UN sanctions. Now it says that it will. Of course, that is welcome. It is part of a slight warming of relations between Beijing and Washington — of which China’s willingness to let its currency drift up a fraction in the next few months is an important part.

However, we will have to see whether China really agrees to new sanctions or uses its role in the talks to water them down again. If so, we would have to ask whether China is merely doing enough to avoid confrontation with the US while also trying to avoid any conflict with Iran, a major oil supplier.

The US and Chinese media have speculated that President Hu’s willingness to discuss new sanctions is part of a deal with President Obama. They point out that the US Treasury recently postponed a report on whether China was manipulating its currency.

But it is too tortuous to link the moves directly. The Treasury’s stated reason for delaying the report was a good one. There has been a struggle between some Beijing ministries that have wanted to allow the currency to rise a little, and the Commerce Ministry, which has not.

The US did not want to humiliate those in favour of flexibility by making it seem as if they were Washington’s puppets.

It is simpler to see China’s remarks about Iran as a sign that it wants to improve relations with the US after assorted clashes, such as at the Copenhagen climate conference. It seems to be testing how much it needs to work with the US and international laws and treaties.

Unfortunately, as in Copenhagen and on the currency, it often comes to the conclusion that it does not need to do much provided that it talks the talk and avoids an outright clash.

The US needs China’s support in the UN Security Council to demonstrate international support but it is probably capable of causing discomfort to Tehran through its own sanctions, as it has done before.

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