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Esfandyar Batmanghelidj

Why China Isn’t Standing By Iran

The regime in Tehran was counting on Beijing to defy U.S. sanctions and keep up, even increase, trade. China has other priorities.

Long on smiles, short on trade.

Long on smiles, short on trade.

Photographer: Kenzaburo Fukuhara/AFP

Last week, Iran’s economic minister was in Beijing for talks on bilateral trade and investment. An official readout of the discussions from China’s commerce ministry describes China and Iran as “comprehensive strategic partners.” This echoes the language used by President Xi Jinping a few weeks earlier, when he welcomed a delegation that included Iran’s foreign minister, oil minister and parliament speaker. Xi declared that “No matter how the international and regional situation changes, China’s resolve to develop a comprehensive strategic partnership with Iran will remain unchanged.”

Unfortunately for Iran, the data tells a different story from the official rhetoric.