New US Nuclear Policy Tipped over Beijing’s Delicate Balancing Act
China's Middle East policy rests on two fundamental principles: Keeping the region on an even keel by averting regional and major local wars – is one, and preventing regional upsets that would undermine the stability of world markets and oil prices, and therefore the Chinese economy – is the second.
To sustain these objectives, Beijing is saddled with its dependence on American power and influence in the volatile Middle East. Lacking the military and economic levers for imposing its will on Middle East and Persian Gulf nations, Beijing must stand behind the US as the only player with the wherewithal for keeping those regions stable. At the same time, as a major rival in the world power stakes, China is just as keen to see America's domination there and elsewhere curtailed.
That is the mixed motivation underlying Beijing's wavering support for North Korean and Iranian aspirations to nuclear power. They will enjoy China's indulgence as long as they pose a direct challenge to US supremacy. within the overall framework of inter-power rivalry. But should they step out of the bounds set by Beijing and imperil Middle East stability and world oil prices, China will step in and force both North Korea and Iran back in line.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources, Beijing's signaled willingness to consider the US demand for new sanctions looked to Tehran like a change in their agreed ground rules. It therefore brought Iran's National Security Council director Saeed Jalili hurrying to Beijing on April 1 for clarifications.
Agreed quid pro quo
Closeted with the Chinese president's special adviser, Dai Bingguo, Chinese foreign policy's reputed senior strategist, Jallil wanted to hear at first hand whether it was true what the Americans were saying that president Hu Jintao was now prepared to cooperate with President Barack Obama in executing harsh sanctions against Iran.
Bingguo assured the Iranian official that Beijing would not deviate this time – any more than in the past – from its standard refusal to endorse any UN Security Council sanctions resolutions too harsh for Iran to endure. Our sources report that the Chinese official promised his visitor that Iran's banking system and foreign operations were safe from penalties and China had no intention of withdrawing from its investments in Iran's energy industry – rather, on the contrary, investing more.
Jallili reciprocated by promising Tehran would not escalate its confrontation with Washington.
The Iranian official left Beijing with the impression that the Chinese rated their participation in sanctions as of high importance as the only power intent on and capable of toning them down.
Thus reassured, the Iranian official was therefore able to inform the press conference marking the end of his Beijing talks: "In our talks with China it was agreed that tools such as sanctions have lost their effectiveness."
Obama's nuclear policy upsets Beijing-Tehran deal
But then five days later, on Tuesday, April 6, both Beijing and Tehran were caught unawares by an unforeseen development in Washington: The unveiling of new Obama administration policy rules limiting America's use of nuclear weapons if attacked by non-nuclear countries, from which the only exceptions were "outliers" (Obama's term for "rogue states") North Korea and Iran, because of their violations of non-proliferation standards.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates honed the message down to the sharpness of an implicit American threat when, several hours later, he maintained that the new policy might make the Iranians think twice about where they're headed with their nuclear program.
At the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on April 13, China responded by backing away from its president's reluctant consent to consider sanctions against Iran. After Presidents Obama and Hu had conferred, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu said: Pressure and sanctions cannot fundamentally solve it (the Iranian nuclear issue). China has always held that dialogue and diplomacy are the preferred way.
The half-steps China and Iran had begun to broach together were therefore arrested in mid-course, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports.
Iran goes full blast against America
The Chinese were on their way to accepting the Russian version of mild sanctions, which President Dmitry Medvedev had insisted to President Obama this week "must not create a catastrophe for the Iranian people." Moscow would on no account go along with an embargo on supplies of refined oil products which they feared would trigger "a huge shock for the whole society and the whole population."
For its own reasons, Beijing refuses to accept any American step which might jolt the regime in Tehran and endanger the flow of oil from Iran, which supplies 12 percent of its annual consumption, or jeopardize Chinese investments in the Islamic Republic.
The Iranians, for their part, abandoned their quid pro quo with Beijing and fired a full blast of acrimony at Washington for what they called the American threat of nuclear war against their country.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei put the military on a state of preparedness and talked of filing a complaint against the United States with the United Nations.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad derided the world leaders attending the Nuclear Security Summit convened by Obama in Washington this week as "stupid" and "retarded."
Iran's Armed Forces Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi warned the US against making any military moves on the Islamic Republic because if it did, none of the US soldiers in the region would return home alive.
This scenario is just the opposite of China's strategic objectives in the Persian Gulf.
Beijing needs the American troops to remain in this part of the world to protect its primary oil supplies.
So, now it's up to the Chinese to decide how to respond to this Iranian outburst.