China buys almost one-third of Iran’s oil exports and has rejected the U.S. sanctions as a tool to rein in Tehran’s nuclear program. That sets up Washington for a public setback if the government of the world’s second-largest economy refuses to cooperate.
“China has no reason to go along with this,” said Wang Lian, an Iran analyst at Peking University’s School of International Relations. “China does not want to be seen as helping the U.S. when China’s own interest is concerned.”
Mr. Geithner met with his counterpart, Vice Premier Wang Qishan, Tuesday night and told him that the two sides “share so many important interests, and among those are increasing our cooperation on global economic issues.”
U.S. officials say the talks also will touch on trade disputes and complaints about China’s currency controls, which critics say keep its yuan undervalued and give its exporters an unfair advantage, distorting trade at a time when Washington and other governments are under pressure to bring down unemployment.
China’s trade surplus with the United States widened 24.2 percent to $17.4 billion in December, according to data released Tuesday.
Mr. Geithner also is due to visit Tokyo, another major buyer of Iranian oil, for talks after he leaves Beijing.
China has criticized U.S. sanctions on Iran, approved by President Obama on New Year’s Eve, as improper and ineffective. Beijing supported U.N. sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program but says action should be multilateral.
The sanctions would target Tehran’s oil industry by barring financial institutions from the U.S. market if they do business with Iran’s central bank. Implementation of the sanctions has been delayed for at least six months to avert a quick rise in oil prices.
China’s oil imports “have nothing to do with the nuclear issue,” Deputy Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said Monday. “We should not mix issues with different natures, and China’s legitimate concerns and demands should be respected.”
Mr. Wang said Chinese opposition might be reinforced by Washington’s latest military strategy report, published last week. It singles out Beijing as a power with the potential to affect the U.S. economy and security.