China vowed again on Tuesday to resist new sanctions against Iran, as top U.S. envoys landed in Beijing on a mission to patch up ties hit by disputes over trade, Taiwan and Tibet.
Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, and Senior White House Asia adviser Jeffrey Bader, may have been hoping to bring Beijing on board for a new round of measures meant to punish Tehran for its nuclear defiance - especially given recent indications Russia is warming to the idea. But the primary purpose of the Americans’ trip is get relations back on track after a turbulent two months.
China suspended military exchanges after Washington announced a $6.4 billion weapons package for Taiwan in January and has threatened to retaliate against U.S. aerospace firms involved in the deal.
Beijing protested again when President Barack Obama met at the White House with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing accuses of seeking independence for the Himalayan region.
Beijing has also lashed back angrily at Google’s announcement in January that its e—mail accounts were hacked from China and was considering pulling out of the Chinese market if censorship restrictions weren’t loosened. Soon after, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, criticized the censorship of cyberspace, and China’s Foreign Ministry said her remarks damaged bilateral relations.
Few details have been given about the visit, when the Americans will meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and other leaders, but Iran is likely to be discussed. The visit is scheduled to run through Thursday.
On Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang, reiterated Beijing’s insistence that now was not the time for new sanctions against Tehran for its nuclear defiance as proposed by the United States and others.
“We call for resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomatic means,” Mr. Qin said at a regularly scheduled news conference.
Mr. Qin was responding to questions about Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s comments on Monday that Moscow - which had been skeptical of sanctions - was ready to consider new measures.
Mr. Medvedev said he still hoped for a settlement with Iran on nuclear issues that would negate any need for a fourth set of U.N. Security Council sanctions. Still, his comments appeared to be the strongest sign to date that the Kremlin was prepared to drop traditional opposition to such penalties if Tehran remain obstinate.
Mr. Qin also indicated Beijing hasn’t budged on its stance that the U.S. was solely responsible for damage to relations over the past couple of months.
“We hope the U.S. side takes seriously the Chinese position and ... works with the Chinese side to push the China—U.S. relationship back to the track of sound and healthy development,” he said.
The new tensions join recurring friction over human rights and commerce, with U.S. critics accusing China of deliberately undervaluing its currency to boost its massive trade surplus. Meanwhile, Beijing last month charged Washington with abusing trade relief measures after U.S. regulators increased import duties on Chinese—made steel pipes.
Chinese foreign policy hawks have said such frictions should prompt Beijing to withhold cooperation on issues like climate change and punishing Tehran for its nuclear defiance. Beijing has already drawn flack for ruling out new sanctions against Iran, a major source of energy supplies for the booming Chinese economy.
“We’ve gone through a bit of a bumpy path here, and I think there’s an interest both within the United States and China to get back to business as usual as quickly as possible,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, said in Washington on Monday.
The Steinberg and Bader visit offers a chance to communicate face—to—face on those issues and “kind of refocus on the future,” Mr. Crowley said.
Chinese officials and state media have recently sounded more conciliatory.
“We hope the friction will calm,” Premier Wen Jiabao, said Saturday during a rare online question—and—answer session with the public.
Mr. Steinberg is regarded as positive and constructive on China—U.S. issues and should receive a sympathetic hearing, said Liu Jiangyong of the Institute of International Studies at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.
“President Obama has many important things that need to get done in the area of China—U.S. relations and progress will depend on the discernment and positions of his top officials,” Mr. Liu said.