BEIJING - With the dispute over Iran's controversial nuclear program moving
this week to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the stage is set for
a perilous confrontation between the Islamic republic and the international
community a showdown that not only Tehran but also world powers like
China and Russia have fought to avoid.
While reporting Tehran to the UNSC is being executed in the name of preventing
nuclear proliferation, China has voiced fears that the whole nonproliferation
system has been destabilized by the freshly inked nuclear deal between the United
States and India.
"The United States' making an exception to accommodate India, driven by
geopolitical considerations, has sent repercussions through the international
nonproliferation infrastructure," Hu Shisheng, a fellow of South Asian
Studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations wrote
in the China Daily Mar. 7.
"The double standards will very likely complicate the nuclear issues of
Iran and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea all the more," he argued.
"Now, the international community is presented with a big question: how
can the effectiveness and binding power of the nonproliferation system be guaranteed?"
The official line from Beijing on the nuclear cooperation agreement signed
between Washington and New Delhi, last week, has been more restrained, but the
Chinese foreign ministry has questioned the gains for the global nuclear nonproliferation
Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the deal came at a time when the international
community was working to enhance the authority and effectiveness of the international
nonproliferation regime. Nuclear cooperation between the United States and India
must conform to the rules of the global nonproliferation regime, he emphasized.
Speaking of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Qin Gang said: "As
a signatory country, China hopes non-signatory countries will join it as soon
as possible as non-nuclear weapons states, thereby contributing to strengthening
the international nonproliferation regime."
The remark was clearly aimed at New Delhi, which without signing the NPT has
now been given the rights enjoyed by the members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group,
and also the five nuclear powers.
Under the deal sealed between U.S. President George W. Bush and Indian Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, India retained the right to deny UN inspectors
access to its fast-breeder reactors capable of producing weapons-grade fissile
As India didn't agree to cap its production, it means there could be unlimited
expansion of its nuclear arsenal, sparking fears this could lead to a new regional
Critics of the deal have charged the U.S. with gambling away its chances of
success in the global campaign to limit the spread of nuclear weapons for the
questionable benefit of counterbalancing China.
It was a point emphasized in an editorial in the Chinese Communist Party's
flagship publication, the People's Daily, this week: "The United
States, accustomed to view problems with Cold War mentality and from the perspective
of geopolitics," said the editorial, "saw the power of India" as
being able to "help it achieve balance among powers in Asia."
The paper went on to warn that there could be consequences for the "two
deadlocked nuclear talks [with Iran and North Korea] and the nonproliferation
Over the past two years, China has been trying to prevent both its allies Iran
and North Korea from being referred to the UNSC but has found it increasingly
hard as all major world powers from France to Japan had started thinking aloud
about the consequences of allowing Iran to build a nuclear weapon.
Although China has huge oil stakes in the Middle Eastern country, in recent
months Beijing has sided with the U.S. and Europe in their combined efforts
to curtail Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Chinese foreign ministry officials have called on Tehran to observe all obligations
that go with the NPT so that the crisis can be resolved without moving it to
China, which has veto power in the UNSC, would be forced to make an uncomfortable
choice between its international standing and economic interests should developments
at the council lead to a vote on sanctions against Tehran.
Agreeing to UN sanctions would potentially destroy the value of many investments
Beijing has made. In Iran, where U.S. companies are prohibited from investing
more than $20 million annually, Chinese companies have signed long-term contracts
valued at $200 billion, making China Iran's biggest oil and gas customer.
But encouragement of Tehran in its controversial nuclear program would make
China appear an outcast in the eyes of the White House and the international
Hoping to avoid clear-cut choices, Beijing has argued vigorously that continued
negotiations are best, if not the only, way to resolve the nuclear dispute in
Iran, as well as the one involving North Korea.
A similar appeal came just hours before the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) ended its meeting on the Iranian nuclear program in Vienna, sending the
file to the UNSC in New York.
"The Iranian nuclear issue is at a critical juncture," Zhang Yan,
director of the arms control department of the Chinese foreign ministry, told
the IAEA board members. There exists both a risk of deterioration and chances
of improvement, he said.
"The key is whether all concerned parties choose dialogue instead of confrontation.
China believes that the continuation of the diplomatic efforts remains the wise
option for the solution of the Iranian nuclear issue," Zhang concluded.
(Inter Press Service)