Obama and Xi seeing eye to eye on Iran
Washington - In his welcoming toast at the state dinner for Chinese President Xi Jinping, US President Barack Obama proposed that the people of China and the United States “work together, like fingers on the same hand, in friendship and in peace”. The president’s warm words, which came in the face of pressure from many in Washington to be tougher towards Beijing, were reciprocated by the Chinese president, who described his visit as “an unforgettable journey”.
This might be because Xi got the attention and recognition for his country’s increasingly assertive role in world affairs from the world’s only superpower — not bad for a leader who travelled to Washington at a time when the Chinese economic miracle is starting to lose lustre.
Obama not only welcomed an expanded role for China, he also told Xi that as “powerful as the United States is, the nature of the biggest challenges we face — things like climate change or terrorism or pandemics or refugees — those are not issues that any one nation alone can solve”.
The president outlined the areas where China is a “partner to address global challenges”, and included among them promoting nuclear security, combating piracy off the horn of Africa, encouraging development and achieving reconciliation in Afghanistan.
US-Chinese cooperation on the Middle East, and especially on Iran, has already borne results.
Obama received reaffirmation from Xi of China’s support for the nuclear deal and Iran got a message that China stands behind the implementation of the deal. Xi said he and Obama “reaffirmed that all relevant parties should undertake to implement the agreement fully and work together to implement all relevant United Nations’ Security Council resolutions”.
Obama also was firm in his insistence that Iran fully implement the nuclear deal but the difference in language when Obama was talking about Iran compared with North Korea was telling. On Iran, Obama said all parties, including Iran, “need to fully implement the nuclear deal”. But when talking about North Korea, the president “demanded” the “full implementation of all relevant UN resolutions”. “We will not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state,” Obama said.
China and Iran already have a good relationship. China is second only to Russia in supplying Iran with arms.
The United States and China agreed to cooperate more closely on terrorism financing, including exchanging information related to money laundering and terrorist financing. US officials said this cooperation should help in the war on terrorism and against groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS). More broadly, Obama called on China to play a bigger role in addressing global economic challenges.
One of the major topics of discussion between the two leaders was navigation in the South China Sea, an issue that, along with cybersecurity, has been a source of bilateral tension. The position of US allies in the region is a mirror image of America’s allies in the Gulf, where the administration is seen as being soft on Iran’s intransigent behaviour in the area.
Obama reaffirmed that “the US will continue to sail, fly and operate anywhere that international law allows” and he expressed concern over Chinese land reclamation and construction in disputed areas, a major concern for America’s allies in the region.
The Chinese president’s response was clear and firm. Xi said the “islands in the South China Sea since ancient times are China’s territory. We have the right to uphold our own territorial sovereignty and lawful and legitimate maritime rights and interests.” But at the same time, he committed to “maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea” and “support freedom of navigation”.