The Chinese government publicly stated today its belief that events surrounding Iran’s nuclear program have reached a “critical point” and only the easing of US economic sanctions will end the present stalemate. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin made the statement just one day after Iran officially began restricting international inspections of its nuclear facilities. The Iranian move is intended to pressure European nations and the United States into ending the heavy economic sanctions now in place, and eventually restoring the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The United States removed itself from that agreement, commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal, in May 2018. The US withdrawal from JCOPA, followed by the application of harsh economic sanctions, led to severe economic consequences for Iran.
With a new administration now in Washington, there’s been hope that the deal can be resurrected. So far, neither side has been willing to make the first move. Tehran is demanding that the sanctions be lifted before serious talks begin and the United States wants full compliance from Iran before any future move towards restarting the deal begin. This is the stalemate Wang Wenbin was referring to in his comments.
China has long favored a US return to the JCPOA as well as Iranian compliance. Salvaging the 2015 deal would serve Chinese interests in the region well. Beijing and Tehran are reportedly close to finalizing a 25 year trade and military agreement that will see China invest $400 billion into Iran’s communication, transport and infrastructure areas in exchange for a deeply discounted supply of Iranian oil. If these are actually the terms of the agreement then it’s in China’s interest to see the nuclear deal return to its original form. The problem is that the terms of the trade and military agreement between Iran and China have become something of an urban legend in the Middle East. The terms and conditions of the agreement might’ve been exaggerated quite significantly and not be the trojan horse that a good number of analysts and politicians have claimed.