China's wrong move on rotten rope of PGCC

TEHRAN, Dec. 12 (MNA) – Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Saudi Arabia has raised eyebrows in Iran as it touched on a controversial issue of extreme importance to Iran in its relations with its southern Arab neighbors.

The Chinese president’s pompous visit to Saudi Arabia would have elicited no reaction from Iran were it not for that presumptuous joint statement issued by the leaders of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states and China.

In their joint statement, the leaders called for a “peaceful solution” to the issue of the three strategically-located islands in the Persian Gulf - Abu Musa, the Lesser Tunb, and the Greater Tunb. 

“The leaders affirmed their support for all peaceful efforts, including the initiative and endeavours of the United Arab Emirates to reach a peaceful solution to the issue of the three islands; Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb, and Abu Musa, through bilateral negotiations in accordance with the rules of international law, and to resolve this issue in accordance with international legitimacy,” the joint statement said.

On the face of it, the statement seemed a carefully worded one. But it sparked a huge uproar in Iran's public opinion as it called for negotiations over an issue Iran considers non-negotiable.

Of note, the issue of the three islands has long been a source of diplomatic tensions between Iran and the GCC, especially the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which makes claims to the islands at almost every GCC and Arab summit. 

But what was astonishing this time was that China appeared to be taking sides in the dispute.

As in the past, Iran strongly condemned the claims to the islands, saying that they are an indispensable part of Iran’s territory. The Iranian reaction came from high diplomatic echelons. 

“The three islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb, and Lesser Tunb in the Persian Gulf are inseparable parts of Iranian soil and eternally belong to this motherland. We have no qualms about the necessity of other parties respecting Iran's territorial integrity,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Twitter. 

Mohammad Jamshidi, the deputy chief of staff for political affairs to the Iranian president, was blunter than usual in his criticism of China. “A reminder to colleagues in Beijing. While Saudi along with the US backed ISIS/Al-Qaeda in Syria and brutalized Yemen, Iran fought terrorist groups to restore regional stability and security and to prevent the spread of insecurity toward both the East and the West,” he said on Twitter. 

Also, Nasser Kan'ani, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, has said that Iran conveyed its “strong discontent” with the GCC-China statement. 

Chinese Ambassador to Iran Chang Hua was summoned to the foreign ministry over the joint statement following the GCC-China summit in Saudi Arabia, according to Al Alam.

Kan'ani said during the meeting with the Chinese ambassador, the Iranian side aired its strong discontent with addressing Iran’s territorial integrity in the GCC-China statement. “It was emphasized that the three Iranian islands of the Persian Gulf are an integral part of the territorial integrity of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which, like any other part of Iran, has never been the subject of negotiations with any country and will never be,” Kan'ani said. 

The Chinese ambassador, for his part, noted that China respects Iran’s territorial integrity. 

Emphasizing his country's respect for the territorial integrity of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Chinese ambassador, while explaining the objectives of the Chinese president’s visit to Riyadh, called the visit in line with helping peace and stability in the region and using dialogue as a tool to solve problems.

He considered his country's foreign policy in the region to be based on balance and announced the expected diplomatic exchanges, including the visit of the Deputy Prime Minister of China to Iran in the coming days, as a confirmation of this approach.

But pundits believe that if China really wants to strike a balance between Iran and the GCC, it needs to also pay heed to Iran’s sensitivities. Iran has expressed its strong desire to upgrade relations with China. Therefore, China and Iran have an opportunity to strengthen their relations if both sides’ sensitivities are respected. 

By Mehran Shamsuddin

First published in Tehran Times

News Code 194797


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