The western speculations that China might cut down oil imports from Iran against the backdrop of the sanctions by the United States can now be conclusively buried. The National Iranian oil Company [NIOC] reached an agreement with China’s UNIPEC to increase Iranian oil exports to China to 500000 barrels per day. The last year’s contract between NIOC and UNIPEC provided for only 220000 bpd of crude and 60000 bpd of gas condensate. Evidently, a substantial increase in Chinese imports from Iran is envisaged this year.
The NIOC-UNIPEC deal indicates three things: a) the drop in China’s import of Iranian oil in January was due to commercial reasons pending the negotiation of the present agreement; b) China is ignoring the US sanctions against Iran; c) China has independent policies toward Iran and the GCC states.
Iran’s deputy oil minister visited Beijing this week to negotiate the new crude supply contract and other projects in the oil, gas and petrochemical sector. This is in line with the statement by China’s Deputy Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai’s during a briefing in Washington on Vice-President Xi Jinping’s visit to the US that Beijing intends to pursue its “legitimate economic interests” with Tehran. Cui was dismissive about the US sanctions against Iran.
Again, Chinese Vice FM Zhai Jun arrived in Damascus on Friday as a special envoy and met President Bashar Al-Assad today. Following the meeting, Zhai extended China’s support for Bashar’s reform programme, especially the constitutional referendum planned for next Sunday. Zhai underscored that only in a peaceful enviornment can reform be implemented in Syria. Zhai also met representatives of Syrian opposition in Damascus who are against foreign intervention in Syria.
Significantly, People’s Daily featured a commentary drawing similarities in the situations around Iran and Syria and China’s “constructive” role. It rejected “arbitrary judgment” by the West regarding the regimes in Iran and Syria, which is used as justification for “traditional tough measures such as the economic sanction and military intervention.”
The message from the UNIPEC-NIOC deal and Zhai’s mission to Damascus — both coinciding with Vice-President Xi Jinping’s tour of the US — is that much as China recognised the need to resolve the Iran nuclear issue and to reform the Syrian political system, it won’t cave in to western pressure.
China’s Middle East policies are indeed shifting gear. The Global Times in a commentary mocked at the “lack of confidence… [and] unease of some Chinese” regarding western criticism and asserted that “China must act confidently and proactively” and should have the courage to calmly stand its ground to secure national interests on the world stage. It was applauding China’s vote in the UN GA on Syria on Thursday. GT editorial is here.
– February 18, 2012