Calls for China to head Iran inspections offer opportunities

Calls for Beijing to lead new inspections of Tehran's nuclear programme offer chance for China to be more active in the Middle East

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 November, 2013, 10:52pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 1:26am

After an interim deal on Iran's nuclear programme was struck on Saturday, there have been calls for Beijing to take the lead in inspections of Tehran's facilities by the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency, an intermediary close to the negotiations has said.

Jean-Christophe Iseux von Pfetten, president of the Royal Institute of East-West Strategic Studies, and several analysts said if approached by the IAEA, Beijing would consider taking on the role partly in an effort to have more influence in the Middle East.

There is a push for stronger involvement of the Chinese [in the inspections]

"The Chinese government now wants to be active in the Middles East, and it wants to do this hand-in-hand with the US," said Von Pfetten, who has advised Chinese authorities on economics and international affairs and has organised meetings over the Iran nuclear crisis.

He said a proposal was floated in the Geneva negotiations over the weekend that calls for China to play a "more important" role in a new IAEA inspection regime.

The idea was expected to be discussed in the next round of Iran-IAEA negotiations, von Pfetten said.

"The inspection will still be under the leadership of IAEA, but there is a push for stronger involvement of the Chinese," he said during a visit to Hong Kong on Monday.

Echoing his comments, Yao Jide, an expert on China-Iran relations at Yunnan University, said there were calls within China to take on a more active role in future IAEA inspections as a step to increase Beijing's international clout.

"China has a lot of qualified experts and we definitely can do this job," Yao said.

For decades China has adopted a rather passive approach in the Middle East. But there are signs of change as the new Chinese leadership under Xi Jinping rolls out a more assertive foreign policy.

China does not have military bases in the Middles East but has heavy investments in the region's oil fields and construction projects.

Driven by its increasing reliance on Middle Eastern energy supply and concerns over the region's instability, Beijing now sought to be more pro-active and flexible on issues in the region, said He Wenping, a senior researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Following up on the agreement to allow inspectors greater access to Iran's nuclear facilities, Iran and the IAEA will discuss practicalities for nuclear inspectors to assess facilities in the country and verify terms of the agreement reached in Geneva between Iran and the so-called P5 plus 1 - the five permanent members of UN Security Council plus Germany.

At an unofficial meeting hosted by von Pfetten in his Burgundy chateau earlier this month, a former top Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander said previous inspections led by the US and its Western allies were seen as "an unacceptable violation of Iran's sovereignty" and the country would accept the inspection teams if they were led by "neutral countries", especially the Chinese, according to a report by the Newsweek last week.

The meeting in France was attended by former officials from Iran, Israel, China, US and Australia, including general Huang Baifu, vice chairman of the government backed think tank China Institute for International Strategic Studies.

Von Pfetten, a French professor also known as the "red baron" for his staunch support for the Chinese Communist Party, said an IAEA regime led by Chinese inspectors was one of the ideas conceived in Burgundy.

An assistant to Huang said the retired general attended the meeting on his own capacity.