BEIJING – Chinese leader Xi Jinping expressed support for Iran during a visit Tuesday by its president as Tehran tries to expand relations with Beijing and Moscow to offset Western sanctions over its nuclear development.
The official Chinese account of Xi’s meeting with Ebrahim Raisi gave no indication whether they discussed Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Tehran supplied military drones to Russian President Vladimir Putin's government but says they were delivered before the war began.
Xi expressed support for Raisi’s government in language Beijing uses to criticize Washington’s domination of global affairs. China and Iran portray themselves, alongside Moscow, as counterweights to American power.
“China supports Iran in safeguarding national sovereignty” and “resisting unilateralism and bullying,” Xi said in a statement carried by Chinese state TV on its website.
Xi and Raisi attended the signing of 20 cooperation agreements including trade and tourism, the Chinese government announced. Those add to a 25-year strategy agreement signed in 2021 to cooperate in developing oil, industry and other fields.
China is one of the biggest buyers of Iranian oil and a source of investment.
Iran has struggled for years under trade and financial sanctions imposed by Washington and other Western governments over what they say is Tehran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons, an accusation the Iranian government denies. The United States government cut off Iran’s access to the network that connects global banks in 2018.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price urged China to influence Iran and lower potential threats in the region, saying that “would be in both of our interests.”
“The PRC has a role to play in very clearly signaling to Iran that its destabilizing activities — that its brinksmanship — is not going to be rewarded, it’s not going to be countenanced. It is not something that the international community is prepared to sit idly by and watch,” Price said Tuesday to reporters in Washington, referring to China by its official name, the People’s Republic of China.
Xi said Beijing “opposes external forces interfering in Iran’s internal affairs and undermining Iran’s security and stability,” according to the government statement. It said Xi promised to “work together on issues involving each other’s core interests,” but gave no details.
Raisi’s government didn’t immediately release details of the meeting, but the president called the two governments “friends in difficult situations” in a commentary published Monday by the ruling Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, asked whether Beijing was concerned that getting closer to Iran might complicate U.S.-Chinese ties, said their “friend relations” contribute to “promotion of peace and stability in the Middle East.”
“Our relations do not target any third parties,” said the spokesperson, Wang Wenbin.
AP diplomacy writer Matt Lee in Washington, D.C., contributed.