Canada is publicly prodding China to use its influence to rein in Iran's nuclear-weapon ambitions as worried nations ready tougher sanctions over Tehran's uranium advances.
“I think China should step up to the plate and do something here,” Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said yesterday.
Publicly calling out China – the most recalcitrant player on the Iran file – is never an easy diplomatic move. It's particularly challenging for Canada given the Harper government's recent attempts at rapprochement with Beijing, after years of frosty relations. The Prime Minister visited China in 2009 to repair and rebuild ties.
The challenge for Canada, and other countries, is persuading China to spend political capital with Iran in light of Tehran's decision to move uranium enrichment one step closer to weapons-grade fuel.
Mr. Cannon said China is well placed, “because of its proximity and its close relations with Iran, to play a determining role in convincing Iran to conform to the international community's wishes.”
China, which has bucked the sanction trend and instead enlarged trade with Iran, is the only country with measurable influence on Tehran, said Houchang Hassan-Yari, an Iran expert at Royal Military College in Kingston. Two-way commerce is now about $36-billion (U.S.) and China is Iran's largest trading partner.
“The Chinese are using the Iranian isolation in order to capture the market there and it might be difficult for them to bend under pressure,” Prof. Hassan-Yari said.
But Wenran Jiang, a Chinese expert at the University of Alberta, said comments like Mr. Cannon's feed into a growing fear in Beijing that China is being set up to take the blame if Iran can't be persuaded to bow to international pressure.
“In other words, China becomes the scapegoat if the Iran issue isn't moving forward,” Prof. Jiang said.
China doesn't seem keen to do what Canada and other countries are asking. Prof. Jiang said that China disapproves of a hard-line, sanction-driven approach to Iran and feels the West is overstating its economic clout with Tehran.
Canada has been a harsh critic of Iran's nuclear program, its human-rights violations and Mr. Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitic blasts at Israel.
To date, Ottawa has imposed two sets of UN-mandated sanctions against Tehran, including freezing the assets of key figures associated with Iran's Revolutionary Guard. Ottawa has warned it will do more if needed, in concert with allies.
Canada has signalled it will use the international pulpit it gets as chair of the Group of Eight this year to push for action on Iran. Prime Minister Stephen Harper discussed the matter yesterday with his fellow G8 leader, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Canada presses China on Iran nuclear file - The Globe and Mail