Hu Jintao Should Practice Diplomacy with Iran, Forcefully

"We both stressed that to uphold the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and to appropriately resolve the Iranian nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiations is very important to stability in the Middle East and in the Gulf region" (Hu Jintao, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, on the outcome of his talks with the U.S. President Barack Obama concerning Iran's nuclear program, November 17, 2009).

The Chinese leader, Hu Jintao, was captured in the international headlines this week as a politician of a growing international stature. China's role as the largest financial lender to the United States empowered Mr. Jintao, who met with President Obama in Beijing on November 17, to oppose the U.S. efforts to impose sanctions on Iran in a bid to halt the country's alleged efforts to manufacture a nuclear bomb.

Earlier this year, the Chinese officials appeared to unequivocally support Western nuclear containment policy for Iran. Mr. Jintao’s most recently reiterated position on Iran—promoting diplomatic negotiations and dismissing sanctions as futile—is explained by Beijing’s rapidly expanding energy trade with Tehran. The Chinese explore Iranian oil fields and purchase Iranian ‘black gold’ to keep their burgeoning economy afloat, while supplying the Islamic republic with gasoline through intermediary companies in Singapore, as Iran itself is unable to refine sufficient quantities of fuel for domestic consumption. This type of relationship has proved truly symbiotic, at the time when most other nations deliberately reduce their dependence on Iranian oil and cut back on their supplies of fuel to Iran in anticipation of the U.S.-backed sanctions.  The sanctions intend to ban gasoline sales to Iran and, thus, will weaken China’s vital economic partner.

Yet, Mr. Jintao should honestly re-assess his stance on Iran. Diplomatic efforts to curtail Iran's nuclear ambitions are not likely to bear fruit any time soon, due to the deep-seated distrust between Iran and Western powers. Earlier this month, Iran  refused to send its low-enriched uranium to Russia and France for further enrichment and conversion to fuel, as was proposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Tehran's expressed concern that it may not receive the enriched fuel rods in the end may be a manifestation of this distrust, and/or a ploy to buy time without agreeing to any specific proposal advanced by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (including China) and Germany (known as a P 5+1 group).

Conversely, Tehran's record of supporting Hamas and Hezbollah financially and ideologically leads Western powers to suspect that the weapons of mass destruction in the hands of the mullah regime may unleash the destructive potential of these terrorist groups and provoke a military backlash by Israel. Mr. Jintao undoubtedly understands that a disruption of the already fragile security in the Middle East, instigated by Iran or its proxies, would damage the Chinese-Iranian trade. Iran’s ever-vacillating behavior—first showing readiness to review diplomatic offers extended to it and then ditching one proposal after another—does nothing but re-assure the West of Iranian regime’s unreliability.

Since Mr. Jintao has opted to press for a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear debacle, should he not take a more pro-active stance in brokering an agreement by nudging Iran toward the negotiating table? A somewhat forceful diplomacy is what might actually help China to preserve stability and its economic interests in the Gulf.  

Barack Obama, China, Hu Jintao, Iran, Nuclear Non-Proliferation