Ahead of MBS visit, China seeks 'deeper trust' with Iran

Iranian FM Zarif and Chinese counterpart meet in Beijing amid efforts to preserve 2015 nuclear deal.

    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi meet in Beijing [How Hwee Young/Getty Images]
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi meet in Beijing [How Hwee Young/Getty Images]

    China wants to deepen "strategic trust" with Iran, the Chinese government's top diplomat has said, days before Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visits Beijing, underscoring Beijing's difficult Middle East balancing act.

    The communist nation has long sought to balance its relations in the Middle East between rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia - one of its chief suppliers of crude oil - whose de facto leader, Prince Mohammed, is due to visit Beijing later this week for meetings with President Xi Jinping and other Chinese officials.

    Meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at a state guest house in Beijing, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi said on Tuesday he had watched Zarif's Sunday speech at the Munich Security Conference, where he had accused Israel of looking for war.

    "I saw on television how you defended the rights of Iran loud and clear at the Munich Security Conference. I think an audience of hundreds of millions of Chinese also watched what you said and you are a famous person now," Wang said, in brief remarks in front of reporters.

    "I would like to take this opportunity to have this in-depth strategic communication with my old friend to deepen the strategic trust between our two countries and to ensure fresh progress of the bilateral comprehensive and strategic partnership," he said.

    China looks forward to Iran playing an even more constructive role in regional affairs, Wang added, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement.

    Sympathy for Iran and Venezuela

    A perception held by many Chinese that the United States seeks to contain their nation's global rise generates sympathy among the public for Iran and other countries, such as Venezuela, identified by Washington as hostile powers.

    Zarif told the Munich conference that a barter-type system known as INSTEX set up last month by France, Germany and Britain to allow businesses to skirt direct financial transactions with Iran, and thereby evade possible US sanctions, fell short of commitments to save the nuclear deal.

    He addressed the conference a day after US Vice President Mike Pence prodded Germany, France and Britain to follow Washington in withdrawing from the deal and to "stop undermining US sanctions".

    Zarif is in Beijing accompanying a delegation that includes Iran's speaker of parliament, Ali Larijani, and Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh. Iran was China's fourth-largest oil supplier last year.

    "Our relationship with China is very valuable to us. We consider the comprehensive strategic partnership between Iran and China as one of our most important relations," Zarif said, also in remarks in front of the media.

    Washington's major European allies opposed last year's decision by US President Donald Trump to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, which includes China and Russia, under which international sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for it accepting curbs on its nuclear programme.

    Iran is an important source of crude imports to China, which has also invested in manufacturing and other industries in Iran.

    At the same time, China has sought to remain a friend to Israel - which Iran regards with hostility - partly to avail itself of the country's cutting-edge technologies.

    Can Iran survive US economic sanctions?

    Counting the Cost

    Can Iran survive US economic sanctions?

    SOURCE: News agencies