Could China agree to an oil embargo on Iran?

Iran is the world’s 15th-largest oil consumer, gobbling up 1.6 million barrels of black gold a day. But despite its considerable reserves — it sits on roughly 4.5 percent of the world’s total — it lacks the capacity to refine any of it, meaning much of its oil supply depends on imports. It’s a tempting ...

582735_090803_iranoil5.jpg
582735_090803_iranoil5.jpg

Iran is the world's 15th-largest oil consumer, gobbling up 1.6 million barrels of black gold a day. But despite its considerable reserves -- it sits on roughly 4.5 percent of the world's total -- it lacks the capacity to refine any of it, meaning much of its oil supply depends on imports. It's a tempting vulnerability the White House is said to be analyzing as part of a possible Iran strategy: cut off those imports, and Tehran will be forced to negotiate.

But Russia and China, who stand to benefit from trade with Iran, are seen as vitally important for any oil sanction's survival -- and their cooperation is far from guaranteed. Spencer Ackerman asks the big question: why should Russia and China go along with this strategy?

Erica Downs offers a potential explanation, at least about China, in a recent piece for FP:

Iran is the world’s 15th-largest oil consumer, gobbling up 1.6 million barrels of black gold a day. But despite its considerable reserves — it sits on roughly 4.5 percent of the world’s total — it lacks the capacity to refine any of it, meaning much of its oil supply depends on imports. It’s a tempting vulnerability the White House is said to be analyzing as part of a possible Iran strategy: cut off those imports, and Tehran will be forced to negotiate.

But Russia and China, who stand to benefit from trade with Iran, are seen as vitally important for any oil sanction’s survival — and their cooperation is far from guaranteed. Spencer Ackerman asks the big question: why should Russia and China go along with this strategy?

Erica Downs offers a potential explanation, at least about China, in a recent piece for FP:

Beijing recognizes that a nuclear-armed Iran would almost certainly be detrimental to its energy security. Iran’s development of a nuclear weapons capability […] would foster instability in the Persian Gulf, jeopardizing the free flow of oil into the market. It could also strain China’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has been China’s top crude oil supplier for most of this decade and opposes Iran’s going nuclear. And despite appearances, China does not want to jeopardize its relationship with the United States. Not only does Beijing value its relations with Washington more than its ties to Tehran, but it relies on the U.S. Navy to protect the sea lanes between the Persian Gulf and China.

The argument about U.S. military ties may no longer apply if China begins to flex its own seapower in the next decade, but Beijing surely sees the unacceptable danger in risking its existing Saudi oil supply for an as-yet nonexistent Iranian oil supply.

AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Brian Fung is an editorial researcher at FP.

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