Tehran, Iran – Iran called in China’s ambassador after Beijing issued a controversial joint statement with Arab states dealing, among other things, with three disputed islands.
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Iran’s rival Saudi Arabia on Friday, where he also sat down with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
They issued a joint statement, which contained several clauses that directly dealt with Iranian affairs, its nuclear programme, and its regional activities.
The issue that prompted the rare summoning of the Chinese envoy was ownership of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa – three islands in the Strait of Hormuz that have been governed by Iran since 1971 and are claimed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as part of its territory.
The then-shah of Iran dispatched the royal navy to the three islands in 1971 after the British withdrew their armed forces from areas that are today the UAE. Emirati leaders have since maintained the islands belong to them, with support from other Arab states. Iran has dismissed these calls.
In signing the statement that called for “bilateral negotiations in accordance with the rules of international law, and to resolve this issue in accordance with international legitimacy”, China effectively undermined Tehran’s stance that it would not entertain any talks on the islands.
Unlike its language for Western countries, the Iranian foreign ministry did not announce “summoning” the Chinese ambassador to “protest” or “condemn” the move, rather saying the envoy “had a visit” with a foreign ministry official on Saturday, during which Tehran’s “strong dissatisfaction” was conveyed.
Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian also said in a tweet the islands are “inseparable parts of Iran’s pure soil”, and Tehran will not hesitate to support its territorial integrity.
Amirabdollahian’s tweet was criticised online as he did not name China, and also because he only tweeted in Farsi whereas he previously tweeted both in Farsi and in Chinese in support of China’s territorial integrity.
China and Iran signed a 25-year cooperation agreement last year, which Amirabdollahian said earlier this year “has entered the implementation stage”, but no major contracts have been publicised as part of the deal so far.
The statement that Xi signed with the GCC leaders did not limit itself to ownership of the islands.
It emphasised ensuring the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear programme and called on Tehran to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), weeks after Iran boosted its enrichment of uranium in response to a Western-introduced resolution at the nuclear watchdog’s board.
In an interview with Al Jazeera published on Saturday, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi reiterated that Iran providing answers to the agency on man-made nuclear particles found at several sites was not optional, but an “obligation”.
China and GCC member states further stressed dialogue on what they called Iran’s “destabilising regional activities” and “support for terrorist and sectarian groups and illegal armed organisations”, in addition to its proliferation of ballistic missiles and drones.
In a statement, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani expressed “surprise” at the inclusion of the Iran-related clauses and defended Iran’s activities.
Mohammad Jamshidi, deputy for political affairs for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, directly addressed Chinese authorities in a tweet he wrote only in Farsi.
“Chinese colleagues should remember that when Saudi [Arabia] and the US supported terrorist ISIS [ISIL] and al-Qaeda groups in Syria and destroyed Yemen with a brutal military aggression, it was Iran who fought the terrorists so that stability and security could be established across the region and terrorism wouldn’t spread to the East and the West,” he wrote.