Iran looks to China, Russia to break out of U.S. sanctions
Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands in Moscow. (Getty Images)
November 8th, 2011
11:12 AM ET

Iran looks to China, Russia to break out of U.S. sanctions

Editor's Note: Juan Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan.  The following is reprinted from his blog, Informed Comment.

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment

The four rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions on Iran are likely about as far as Russia and China are willing to go. Even the new charges against Iran apparently contained in the forthcoming International Atomic Energy Agency report (which do not rise to the level of accusing Tehran of having an active nuclear weapons program or of having diverted uranium to it), according to Reuters, are unlikely to impress China and Russia.

The problem is that sanctions on the Iranian financial and banking sector are already so extensive that the only way to go beyond them is to start a boycott of Iranian petroleum and gas.

But China simply won’t go along with any such policy. In fact, China increased its petroleum imports from Iran in the first half of 2011 by 50% over the previous year. China took 650,000 barrels a day from Iran last June, making the latter the third biggest supplier, following Saudi Arabia and Angola. China also increased its naphtha imports from Iran by 280% over the previous year!

China is now the world’s second-largest petroleum importer, after the United States, and clearly sees imports from Iran as an important part of its energy mix. So China is not voting at the U.N. to inflict on itself a shortfall of over half a million barrels a day of petroleum

Iran exports about 2.4 million barrels a day of petroleum, of which China imports a little over a fourth.

Moreover, it would not be a good thing for anyone to have a global boycott (essentially a blockade) of Iranian petroleum, since that move would take the 2.4 million barrels a day off the world market and drive prices up to several hundred dollars a barrel.

So it just isn’t going to happen.

(Another significant Iranian export market, India, has been able to pay down its $5 billion in arrears, using the Turkish Halk Bank, and there are rumors that Tehran might turn, or has turned, to a Russian bank as well. India had temporary difficulties in paying for Iranian oil because, at President Obama’s urging, Delhi kicked Iran off the South Asia banking exchange.)

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently issued a stern warning against any use of military force against Iran, cleverly reminding Israel and the U.S. that only self-defense or a U.N. Security Council resolution could authorize such an attack in international law, and neither is in evidence.

Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi attended the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which groups China and Russia with four Central Asian states. Tehran is seeking to move from observer status to being a full member.

The SCO may prove a congenial home for Iran. It is an area where the U.S. has little diplomatic clout, and the U.S. is seen as bogged down in Afghanistan.

The new, more pro-U.S. International Atomic Energy Agency is willing to speculate about Iran’s nuclear enrichment program in a way that Mohammed Elbaradei never was. I have argued that Iran is seeking “nuclear latency” or the “Japan option,” that is, it does not want to now construct or store a nuclear warhead. Rather, Tehran wants the ability to construct a nuclear warhead in a short period of time if it became necessary to deter an invasion of the sort the U.S. inflicted on Iraq. If Iran actually constructed a nuclear device and detonated it, the action might well produce North Korea-style sanctions and isolation. But latency has almost the same deterrent effect, and is much less costly in global political capital.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Juan Cole. For more, visit Informed Comment.

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Topics: China • Foreign Policy • Iran • Russia

soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. friendsofindia

    How wonderful that the US is now going to invade Iran, our Tata's Parthian homeland now falling into the dirty hands of Muslim mulahs. As the world's greatest democracy and its only super duper power, India should join the US in this invasion, for this is the only chance that the invasion can ever succeed.

    On the one hand, the US has plenty of experience of invading other countries, with the skills honed in the invasion of Panama, Greennada, Kosovo, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, that India lacks. On the other, India has resources and ways and means to manage large dalit populations. We can send 100 million of our dalit armies, that completely overwhelm all the population in Iran. We can make all the Iranian girls to be married to our dalit soldiers, that will instantly solve our problem of too few girls, and at the same time all the next generation of them will be our content India dalits instead of being Muslims who are constantly a pain on India's butt. As for the rest of the Iranian men, they will either all be vaporized in their unholy and futile so called resistance, or that they can all migrate to Saudi Arabia to co-habit with their fellow Muslims.

    This will completely change the geostrategic situation in south Asia, it will make India the strongest nation in the world, and enhancing our world's greatest and largest and duperest super power status. And in fact, that should turn it around immediately to make the USA our vassal state because of our immediate control of Iranian oil and gas and our chokehold on the straits of Hormus.

    Submit to your fate under our Hindu Colossus, beg our 5 rupee meal middle classes, bow to our super powers.

    Pray for India, we will have pity on you. Jai Hind!

    November 8, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Reply
    • shahin

      I always heard Indian were smart. How the hell did YOU fall off the grid?
      Keep it to Tech Support you internet commando.

      November 8, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Reply
    • Keith

      Iranians figured this out pretty good..... West has no money and an imperium on the verge of the collapse.... China/Russia both have Trillions of Surplus and powers of the future... why worrring about powers of the past???

      November 11, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Reply
    • TROLL FACE

      Don't listen to him, he is a Paki troll masquerading as an Indian.

      November 12, 2011 at 4:54 am | Reply
    • Tron

      釣魚島問題專家、香港中文大學亞太研究所研究員鄭海麟從釣魚台列嶼的歷史地位切入,直指釣魚島隸屬中國毫無疑義。他指出,中日兩國大量歷史文獻表明,最早發現、命名和使用釣魚台列嶼的是中國人,而不是琉球人或日本人。釣魚島列嶼並不屬於「舊琉球王朝的勢力所及範圍」,該列嶼在明朝便被納入中國海防及行政管制區域。

      一九五一年的《舊金山(三藩市)合約》根本沒有涉及釣魚台列嶼的主權問題。一九五二年美國託管當局將釣魚島列嶼劃入琉球列島地理境界的經緯度內,是極不適當和不合國際法的。因此,日本聲稱擁有該列嶼主權在國際法上不能成立。

      中國大陸學者近年來對釣魚島議題的研究下了很大工夫。清華大學當代國際關係研究院副院長劉江永教授指出,事實證明日本早在甲午戰爭前十年已知釣魚台列嶼屬於中國。

      日外務省當年編撰的《日本外交文書》第十八卷和第二十三卷中,對明治政府竊取釣魚島的決策過程有非常詳實的記載。換言之,釣魚台列嶼是日本乘甲午戰爭之機,未等簽署馬關條約而從中國竊取的。如今,日方稱其與馬關條約,即甲午戰爭無關,根本站不住腳。

      二戰後釣魚島問題懸而未決與美國介入密不可分。劉江永指出,一九七一年美國擅自決定將釣魚島的行政管轄權交給日本政府,遭到全球華人的強烈反對,掀起保釣浪潮,迫使美國迄今迄未承認日本擁有釣魚島的主權,而希望中日雙方和平協商解決。然而,二零一零年以來美國政府多次明確表示,釣魚島適用於美日安保條約第五條,「這是造成日本政府在釣魚島問題上有恃無恐採取強硬做法的重要外部因素」。

      事實上,東京法院曾經判定釣魚島屬於台北州。台灣光復前一年,台灣與琉球為釣魚島發生歸屬權之爭,當時該法院將釣魚台列嶼判決為台北州所有,更加證明釣魚島主權屬台灣。

      此外,中國大陸學者、上海社會科學研究院法學研究所副研究員、海洋法研究中心主任金永明,上海國際問題研究院學術委員會副主任、上海市日本學會會長吳寄南等,也發表論文,探索釣魚島的國際地位,力證釣魚島主權屬中華民族。

      台灣師範大學東亞系助理教授林賢參則從戰略意涵分析釣魚島問題的本質。他說,中國大陸追求成為「海洋強國」,企圖掌控西太平洋海域之制海權,會壓縮日本防衛之戰略縱深;政治大學亞太研究所副研究員李瓊莉,也提出國際經驗的比較。

      政大外交系教授趙國材說,釣魚台列嶼問題迄今無解,指出釣魚島問題不論從歷史地位或法律地位探討皆無意義,因為國際政治乃強權政治,關於釣魚島主權誰屬是老大哥美國說了算。

      趙國材又表示,台灣願意依聯合國憲章及國際法和平解決國際爭端的規範,從主權、戰略位置、海洋權益與維護資源等面向,以確保釣魚台列嶼領土主權完整,與日本談判,並保護台灣漁民權益。唯日方無意願與台灣談判主權問題,只願和台灣談判漁權,想透過台灣獲得漁權用來騙取釣魚台列嶼的主權。但保釣出身的總統馬英九並未上當,既要漁權也要主權。

      台灣有人主張拉攏美國介入東海爭端,使日本、中國大陸、台灣、美國形成四方機制,能更有效解決釣魚台列嶼主權問題,並提升台灣之國際地位。趙國材認為,這種做法可能會引狼入室,不見得對台灣有利,因為美日在外交上皆承認北京,與台灣沒有邦交,且釣魚台列嶼附近之海域處於防衛美國本土的第一島鏈上,可能牽動東北亞安全情勢和美日的戰略布局,美國在釣魚台列嶼問題上一向表態中立,骨子裏其實偏袒日本。

      台灣政治大學國際法學研究中心研究員邵漢儀首次全部全文公開日方釣魚島的新史料,掀起高潮。邵的父親邵玉銘當年留美時亦曾參與保釣運動,如今父子兩代同台參與釣魚島會議,傳為佳話。

      日本外務省於一九七一年提出的《我國關於尖閣諸島領有權的基本見解》聲稱﹕「自一八八五年以來,日本政府通過沖繩縣當局等途徑再三在尖閣諸島進行實地調查,慎重確認尖閣諸島不僅為無人島,而且沒有受清朝統治的痕跡。在此基礎上,於一八九五年一月二十一日,在內閣會議上決定在島上建立標樁,以正式列入我國領土之內。」

      為了調查日方說法的真相,邵漢儀曾親往日本查閱相關原件,包括仍未公開的明治時期史料。他從日本外務省外交史料館、防衛省防衛研究所圖書館,以及國立公文書館尋得近四十件原件,首次全部公開。他歷時兩年餘發現明治政府從未派員至釣魚島進行實地調查,所謂「再三」調查純屬捏造。

      韓國外國語大學教授黃載皓認為,今年三月中國發表國防白皮書,確立戰略目標是國家現代化、力主防禦性國防、與他國建立軍事互信,他懷疑中日會爆發大戰,也不認為日本會放棄二戰後的現代化貿然掀起戰端。不過,另一位韓國學者國家安保戰略研究院研究員朴炳光指出,韓日兩國近年提出擴大交流合作關係的「新時代」理念,但對於韓國,獨島攸關經濟及軍事戰略國家利益,不可能讓步。

      November 20, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Reply
  2. craigmichael

    Wow, friendsofindia, that's some bold talk with big ambitions behind. Now if only the Indian army new how to fight?!

    November 8, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Reply
  3. j. von hettlingen

    Central Asia has become a chess-board of the region, where China and Russia play the key-roles and the others – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan the supporting-roles in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, formed in 2001. India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia joined later as observer members. This SCO would never be a supranational organisation like the European Union, but it is out of demographic point of view, the biggest regional organisation on earth.

    November 8, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Reply
  4. Onesmallvoice

    Hopefully the Iranians will succeed in this endeavor. We Americans have been bullying other nations for far too long and now is the time for a change. As this continues to go on, the right-wing thugs in Washington grow more corrupt day after day and this getting increasingly repulsive!!!

    November 8, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  5. thughes218

    If China and Russia can't be persuaded to support tougher UN sanctions, then form a coalition (NATO, GCC, others) without them to embargo Iran's oil and gas.The UN is not a mutual suicide pack. Russia, China, and the UN have become impediments to stopping Iranian nuclear weapons program. While an oil/gas embargo is risky escalation, better than the alternatives of preemptive military action by Israel or others, or delaying action until Iran has nukes. Also, ask GCC to up production to cover loss of Iranian oil/gas exports.

    November 8, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Reply
    • Matt

      Such is to be expected from a person like you with your limited intelligence. Only a bully-loving idiot like you would make such a comment like that!

      November 8, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Reply
      • thughes218

        Brilliant rebuttal! Here's some others discussing options. Perhaps you could share your critical analysis with them as well.

        http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4145781,00.html
        http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/11/08/us-nuclear-iran-usa-idUSTRE7A76MF20111108
        http://www.haaretz.com/news/israel-demands-embargo-on-iran-oil-even-without-un-okay-1.266091
        http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Energy-Resources/2011/10/28/Saudis-mull-oil-as-a-weapon-against-Iran/UPI-97031319817898/

        November 8, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  6. john dahodi

    I think it would be much better, safer and sound if Iran becomes a nuclear power sooner than later. There will be many advantages; like (i) Iran will not have to send terrorists anywhere in the world (ii) Israel will follow the international rules and respect U.N. Security Council (iii) Veto power nation will stop black mailing others(iv) Iran will force others to eliminate their nuclear weapons jointly and make the world more safer (v) no more wars in the middle east (vi) Palestinian problem will be resolved in few months (vi) America will recall their military from the military bases around the globe, which will save more than trillion dollar per year; our deficit will be over at once.

    November 8, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Reply
  7. leeintulsa

    Well, i don't know about all that, but i think they should be allowed to have nukes.

    We're the only ones that ever actually used them.. TWICE.. Who are we to say who can and can't have them?

    November 8, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Reply
  8. Keith

    Keith

    Iranians figured this out pretty good..... West has no money and an imperium on the verge of the collapse.... China/Russia both have Trillions of Surplus and powers of the future... why worrring about powers of the past???

    November 11, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Reply
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