China remains hesitant to accept the U.S. bottom line on Iran. The two nations this week expressed goodwill and pledged general cooperation on nonproliferation, among other items, but failed to produce concrete plans of action and displayed subtle signs of divergence, as illustrated by today’s press briefing…
The Wall Street Journal described the briefing as an “awkward” affair in which President Obama and President Hu Jintao “exhibited body language that seemed to say they had been frustrated by the entire exercise.” The two presented different tones in their remarks on Iran. Obama’s remarks were forceful: “Our two nations and the rest of our P5-plus-1 partners are unified. Iran has an opportunity to present and demonstrate its peaceful intentions, but if it fails to take this opportunity there will be consequences.” In contrast, Hu was more oblique: “We both stressed that to uphold the international nuclear nonproliferation regime and to appropriately resolve the Iranian nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiations is very important to stability in the Middle East and in the Gulf region.”
Of the P5+1 countries, China has been the most resistant to ratcheting up pressure on Iran. This is no surprise given China’s dependence on Iran for 12 percent of its crude oil imports. When asked today about China’s plan to help deal with Iran, U.S. National Security Council official Jeffrey Bader replied, “I would not say that we got an answer today from the Chinese, nor did we expect one on the subject.”
Policy agenda aside, China made serious efforts to make Obama’s visit as enjoyable as possible. According to the Washington Post, China began last week to regulate its market for Obama souvenirs in an attempt to eliminate insulting images. For example, the wildly popular “Oba Mao” memorabilia got the axe while the Obama-Superman figurine made the cut. Superman beats Mao? That will probably not be a victory for the history books.
Obama did stir things up during a town-hall meeting with Chinese students yesterday by discussing the importance of open government and internet freedom.
The Chinese government responded by censoring the dialogue.