Chinese leader Xi Jinping has expressed support for Iran during his president’s visit as Tehran seeks to expand ties with Beijing and Moscow to neutralize Western sanctions over its nuclear development.
“China supports Iran in safeguarding national sovereignty” and “blunting up unilateralism and bullying,” Xi said in a statement carried by Chinese state TV on its website on Tuesday.
His comments came as China hosted Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on his first state visit to the Asian economic giant and the first by an Iranian president in 20 years.
Xi called for a proper solution to the Iranian nuclear issue as he expressed Beijing’s “solidarity” with Iran amid global uncertainty.
China will continue to “participate constructively” in talks on resuming negotiations on the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, Xi told Raisi at talks in Beijing.
The 2015 nuclear deal limited Iran’s uranium enrichment program to make it harder for Tehran to develop nuclear weapons, in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. Iran says it has continued to develop nuclear energy for peaceful reasons.
But in 2018, then-US President Donald Trump unilaterally left the agreement, saying it had not done enough to curb Tehran’s nuclear activities, and reimposed sanctions.
China has criticized Washington for pulling out of the deal and insists the US should take the first step in reviving the pact.
In September, the US imposed new sanctions on companies involved in Iran’s oil exports, including five companies based in China. Washington has said it will continue to enforce sanctions on Iran’s oil and petrochemical sales as long as Tehran continues to accelerate its nuclear program.
Raisi was accompanying a large Iranian trade and finance delegation to Beijing, and had earlier been greeted on the red carpet by Xi.
“In the face of the current complex changes in the world, times and history, China and Iran have supported each other [and] worked together in solidarity and cooperation,” Xi was quoted as saying by state broadcaster CCTV.
Pressure due to Ukraine
Both countries face pressure from Western countries over their stances on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while Iran is already under heavy US sanctions over its nuclear program.
“China is Iran’s largest trading partner and the only buyer of its oil exports under severe sanctions,” Al Jazeera reporter Katrina Yu said. “US-led sanctions have left Iran in its worst economic situation in more than 40 years.”
Iran has emerged as one of Russia’s few remaining allies as Moscow is pushed deeper into international isolation by the invasion.
Western countries have accused Tehran of supplying armed drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine, a charge it denies.
In December, Washington outlined what it said was an extensive relationship between Iran and Russia that included equipment such as helicopters, fighter jets and drones.
Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine is a sensitive issue for Beijing, which is trying to position itself as neutral while offering diplomatic support to its strategic ally Russia.
“Xi Jinping says China will continue to participate in negotiations to restore the agreement,” Yu said. “Ebrahim Raisi’s visit comes at a time when both China and Iran are strengthening their relations with Russia. Both sides say they oppose the world order led by the United States and its allies.”
As reported by CCTV, the two sides signed a number of bilateral documents on cooperation in the fields of agriculture, trade, tourism, environmental protection, health, disaster relief, culture and sports.
Raisi and Xi met for the first time as presidents on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan in September. China has supported Iran’s now successful bid to become a full member of the organization.
Last year, Iran and China also began the implementation phase of a 25-year cooperation agreement that requires China to invest billions of dollars in Iran’s oil sector in exchange for supplies of oil and petrochemical products. China is already Iran’s largest trading partner.
The pact was originally proposed by Xi during a 2016 visit to Iran.