China steps up criticism of US sanctions on Iran oil

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday stepped up its response to a decision by the US to stop exempting several countries, including China, from its sanctions on Iran.

At a news briefing on Tuesday, Geng Shuang, a spokesperson for the ministry, used harsher words in criticizing the US decision than a day earlier and suggested that China had already taken actions against the move.

'The Chinese side urges the US to seriously respect China's interests and concerns and refrain from taking wrong actions that damage China's interests,' Geng said. 'China has already made representations to the US side.'

Those comments reflect an escalation from Geng's comments on Monday, when he spoke in more general terms, saying China has always opposed the US' unilateral sanctions and so-called 'long-arm jurisdiction' and argued that cooperation between China and Iran 'should be respected.'

On Tuesday, however, Geng said China 'firmly opposed' the US actions and cooperation between Iran and the international community, including China, 'must be respected and protected.'

The US government announced on Monday that it would stop exempting five countries - China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey - from its sanctions on Iran oil starting on May 2.

'This threatens China's energy security as well as China's independent foreign policy, so China will not back down easily,' a senior foreign affairs expert in Beijing, who requested anonymity, told the Global Times.

China is one of the major buyers of Iranian oil. In 2018, China imported nearly 30 million tons of oil from Iran, although that was down 6 percent year-on-year, according to Chinese customs data. Chinese oil companies also have deals with Iranian companies in the oil business, analysts said.

More directly, China's response was mostly prompted by serious economic ramifications from the US decision, according to Han Xiaoping, chief analyst at energy industry website china5e.com.

Han pointed out that the US move could further drive up oil prices and in turn increase the cost of importing oil for China, which relies on foreign crude to meet 70 percent of its domestic demand. 

Chinese companies would also be subject to US sanctions, he told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Oil prices soared on Tuesday after the US announcement, with Brent crude price increasing 0.8 percent to around $74 a barrel, the highest level since November 2018, according to Bloomberg.

News Code 190221

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