China will work to water down any Security Council resolution though a delay-and-weaken strategy that maximizes concessions from both Iran and the West.
But this effort has yielded few results and merely serves to strengthen China’s strategic hand. The longer China holds out, the better treatment it gets from the West, which is hoping for sanctions that will likely do little to resolve the nuclear impasse anyway.
Iran is China’s third-largest oil supplier and home to expanding Chinese energy and commercial enterprises. China and Iran also share a strong resentment of perceived American meddling in their domestic politics. The bond with Tehran helps counterbalance American interests in a region that some strategists in China consider part of its “grand periphery.”
Beijing has also led a charm offensive with Muslim countries since the Xinjiang riots in July 2009, partly in response to strong condemnations by top Iranian clerics of China’s administration of the restive western province.
Unlike the US and Europe, Beijing does not seem to see an urgent need to deal with the Iran nuclear issue. Trying to pressure Beijing by sharing Western intelligence on Iran is unlikely to have much effect.
Building an effective international coalition of countries – including Arab Gulf countries and those with Security Council membership – is a far better way to shape China’s Iran calculus.