China’s ongoing and increasing role in aiding Iranian efforts to acquire nuclear weapons was cited in a disturbing new UN report. While the UN report centered on Iranian and North Korean efforts to regularly ship each other “prohibited ballistic missile related items,” it also designated China as the “transit hub” for these illegal shipments.
Unfortunately, news of China’s duplicity comes at a time when Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant is said to be only weeks away from operating at full capacity. While Iran has claimed the Bushehr power plant to be solely dedicated to its civil nuclear energy program, the United States and its allies have long suspected this plant to be a venue to develop nuclear weapons.
While the Chinese were reportedly displeased by the UN report, that view may have been due more to its inability to block the report’s release than by any finding that it had engaged in illicit activity. In either case, the news that China is providing assistance to Iran’s quest to develop a nuclear weapons program comes as little surprise.
As far back as 2010, a Pentagon review had specifically determined the Chinese to be assisting the Iranians in the development and expansion of its nuclear missile program.
Most recently, in March 2011, Malaysian authorities had seized the Malaysian-registered merchant freighter Bunga Raya I for containing parts and equipment — made in China and bound for Iran — believed meant for making nuclear warheads.
In fact, American intelligence has long believed that Chinese companies have been involved in providing restricted technology and materials to Iran’s military programs. To that end, in September 2010, the US State Department had presented to Beijing what it considered to be a “significant list” of Chinese companies that were violating UN sanctions against Iran.
Most of the firms in question had been discovered to be selling Iran “high-quality carbon fiber” used to build better uranium enriching centrifuges. Despite China’s denial, Robert Einhorn, the State Department’s special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, said in April 2011 that Chinese companies were still continuing to work to help Iran obtain “sensitive technology used for developing a nuclear weapons capability.”
However, if the United States still believes China is assisting Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it wasn’t indicated in last week’s two-day US – China Strategic and Economic Summit. In a report on the meeting’s outcome, the State Department devoted one line to the issue, which read “Both countries reiterated their understanding on the Iranian nuclear issue.”
This understanding between the two nations seems to be that the US and its allies disrupt Iran’s nuclear weapons program through economic sanctions, while China actively works to help Iran achieve its nuclear goal by increasing economic ties to the Islamist Republic.
For example, after the Security Council passed its fourth round of enhanced sanctions on Iran in June 2010, the United States, the European Union, and other allies passed laws that further restricted investment in Iran’s energy sector. After Russia recently canceled its sale to Iran of an advanced antiaircraft missile, China has remained the last major economy with significant investments in Iran’s energy industry.
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