“The normal trade relations and energy cooperation between China and Iran have nothing to do with the nuclear issue,” Cui said. “We should not mix issues of different natures, and China’s legitimate concerns and demands should be respected.”
Cui noted that some have argued that any normal business dealings with Iran provided financial support for its nuclear program, but he said, “This argument does not hold water.”
“According to this logic, if the Iranians have enough money to feed their population, then they have the ability to develop nuclear programs,” Cui told reporters. “If that is the case, should we also deny Iran the opportunity to feed its population?”
Energy-hungry China imported 11 percent of its oil from Iran last year, with Chinese purchases reaching a high of about 617,000 barrels a day in November. According to figures from China’s customs office, the oil purchases from Iran last year were significantly higher than those in the previous year on a month-to-month comparison. Iran sent roughly a third of its oil exports to China.
But in December and so far this year, the imports appear to have slowed, primarily because of a dispute over pricing and credit terms. The January imports were roughly half of the 2011 daily average, industry analysts said.
A new U.S. law would penalize foreign companies that deal with the Central Bank of Iran, which handles the country’s oil revenue. Geithner’s visit to China, to be followed by a stop in Japan later this week, is aimed at getting Iran’s main Asian oil consumers to at least reduce, if not stop, their imports of Iranian oil.
Iranian officials, meanwhile, have threatened to retaliate against any efforts to curtail oil shipments by blocking the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which passes roughly 35 percent of the world’s oil shipments, or nearly 20 percent of the oil traded worldwide. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, in an interview Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” said, “We made very clear that the United States will not tolerate the blocking of the Straits of Hormuz.”
The latest tension in the Persian Gulf comes as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveled Sunday to Venezuela at the start of a Latin America tour aimed at showing that Iran still has supporters and economic partners in the world.
Also, reports surfaced in Iran’s media over the weekend that the country has begun to enrich uranium at a new underground facility, built to withstand possible airstrikes.
And Monday, Iran’s revolutionary court, in a preliminary ruling, convicted an Iranian American, Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, 28, of spying and sentenced him to death, in a decision likely to ratchet up tensions with Washington.