Given its goal of building a ‘New-Type Great Power Relationship’ with the United States, why doesn’t China demonstrate its good will towards the United States by cooperating more proactively on sanctioning Iran over its nuclear enrichment activities, a key US foreign policy goal that is also in line with Chinese stated policy on non-proliferation? This essay describes Chinese views of nuclear non-proliferation, the oil trade, and Iran’s geo-strategic importance from the perspectives of specialists in China’s arms control community, experts on energy trade, Middle East specialists and grand strategists. It characterizes China’s relationship with Iran as one of ‘opportunistic cooperation within constraints’, arguing that China–Iran ties are largely transactional in nature, aimed at maximizing benefits to China but limited by Beijing’s concern to avoid irreparably damaging its relationship with Washington. Chinese observers describe the Islamic Republic as a valued non-US-aligned partner in a geo-strategically critical region; they also appreciate its substantial oil exports to China and see it as accepting of China’s rise. The article concludes that China is likely to continue to strive to maximize its relations with Iran to as great an extent possible, while doing the minimum necessary to support the P5 + 1 negotiations and sanctions processes.

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