Iran crisis: Trump fury as China defies US sanctions to import oil from Tehran
US officials claim they are now tracking all moves from the China National Petroleum Corporation after an investigation exposed the collaboration between Tehran and Beijing. Washington imposed heavy sanctions on Iran in 2018 which prevented the exporting of crude oil after Mr Trump withdrew from the landmark nuclear deal between the two nations. China’s move is likely to strain relations further between leader Xi Jinping and the Trump administration following the ongoing trade war that has hit both countries economically.
The investigation came a week after the US sanctioned Chinese oil trader Zhuhai Zhenrong for importing crude oil.
Two US officials claimed that the punishment would set the precedent for any Chinese companies going forward.
One claimed: “Any entity considering evading our restrictions, particularly related to Iranian petrochemicals, should take this message seriously.
“We recently sanctioned Zhuhai Zhenrong for knowingly engaging in a significant transaction for the purchase or acquisition of crude oil from Iran.
They also lamented China’s actions as undermining US economic pressure on Iran.
Another official said: “We have brought this regime’s oil exports to all-time lows.
“Our energy sector sanctions combined with strong enforcement could deprive the regime of as much as $50 billion annually.”
Reports suggest, despite US sanctions, China took in around 12 million tonnes of Iranian crude oil in the first five months of 2019.
An investigation by the New York Times found at least 12 Iranian tankers delivered oil across Asia and the Mediterranean since May.
Six of those docked in China, while others are thought to have gone to Syria and Turkey – two nations the US has also targeted with sanctions.
Experts suggest, while the Trump administration has convinced its allies to join in the zero-imports policy from Tehran, China will prove to be a tougher nut to crack due to recent tensions.
Former CIA official Dennis Wilder said: “China is not going to do the US any favours.
“This is the price you pay strategically.
“You cannot tell China, on the one hand, to be aligned with you on Iran and North Korea and at the same time decide you’re going to retard or destroy some of their corporations.”
Meanwhile, former State Department official Richard Nephew suggested the Trump administration had overplayed their hand with China.
He added: “You can’t make these kinds of threats if you can’t operationalize it.
“It adds up to a decision that makes them look weak and feckless.
“That shows there are limitations to US power. China and other places are prepared to say, ‘No, we’re not going to follow the US lead.’”
However, Iran was currently exporting just 500,000 barrels of oil a day in June – down from 2.5 million in April 2018, before Mr Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal.
This has led to a slowdown in Iran’s economy, which backers of Mr Trump have used as vindication for his policy.
Some Republican hawks – who are keen to oust the Iranian administration – have called on Mr Trump to take further action on both Beijing and Tehran.
Senator Marco Rubio said: “While I’m glad the administration sanctioned an initial round of Chinese actors, it must step up strong enforcement to deter Chinese and other foreign actors from violating US sanctions against Iran.
“The Iranian regime has blatantly shipped millions of barrels of oil to China.”
China and the US have been locked in a ‘trade war’ since Mr Trump entered the White House.
Last week saw the US President announce 10 percent tariffs on another $300 billion worth of Chinese goods for allegedly unfair trade practices.
China’s purchasing of Iranian oil is thought to be a symbolic defiance of Mr Trump’s aggression.
Beijing has also countered the US on a geopolitical level as they continue to increase their sphere of influence in the South China Sea.