- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chinese President Hu Jintao will begin formal talks with President Obama on Wednesday, as the White House comes under pressure to use the state visit as a forum to raise the issue of China’s illicit technology trade with Iran.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will hold a hearing Wednesday morning on “assessing China’s behavior and its impact on U.S. interests.”

An aide to Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said Tuesday the congresswoman “has expressed her concerns about Chinese business ties with Iran since the implementation of U.S. and international sanctions. It’s an issue that could be raised at the briefing tomorrow.”

China’s trade with Iran will be one of many thorny issues Mr. Obama will likely raise with Mr. Hu. Mr. Obama also is expected to bring up China’s record on human rights. Last year’s Nobel Peace Prizer winner, democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, remains imprisoned in China.

Mr. Obama also is expected to make a push for the resumption of military-to-military exchanges with China. Meanwhile, Mr. Hu is likely to raise his worries about Taiwan’s latest request for the United States to sell the island refurbished F-16 fighter jets.

“I have a feeling this will be an anti-climactic summit,” said John Tkacik,chief intelligence analyst for the State Department during the Clinton administration. “It seems the Obama administration has reached the limits of its tolerance of China. This seems to be the last opportunity for President Obama to convince himself one way or the other where China is going.”

Jamie Fly, executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, said: “This administration came into office attempting to ‘reset’ relations with Beijing, but they now appear to realize that U.S. and Chinese interests are not fundamentally aligned. The question is whether this new approach to China will have staying power if further tensions develop.”

One source of tension in the U.S.-China relationship is Iran. By some estimates, China is Iran’s largest trading partner. Asadollah Asgaroladi, president of the Iran-China Joint Chamber of Commerce, valued Iran-China trade at $30 billion for 2009.

Last week, Sen. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, sent Mr. Obama a letter complaining that China has not enforced the U.N. sanctions against Iran that Beijing helped draft last year.

“We believe China’s record on sanctions enforcement and nonproliferation is inadequate and disappointing,” the senators wrote in the Jan. 14 letter. “In addition, Chinese investments and activities in the Iranian energy sector continue in violation of U.S. law.”

The letter brings to the surface a long-standing dispute between members of Congress and the Obama administration. Mr. Obama, while getting tougher in many respects on China, has not sought to use a new U.S. law on Iran sanctions to target a Chinese company.

“We are pushing the White House to sanction some of these companies that are flagrantly violating the spirit and letter of the sanctions,” a Republican Senate aide told The Washington Times.

The conflict started last year when the White House urged members of Congress to include an exemption in the sanctions bill for countries deemed by the White House to be cooperating with U.N. sanctions on Iran. That provision was weakened by Democrats and Republicans negotiating the bill.

“It is a big problem that China does not do enough to implement and enforce its own trade controls and the U.N. Security Council resolutions against Iran,” said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security and a former weapons inspector.

“A lot of this is done by trading companies that resell the technical equipment to Iran,” Mr. Albright said. “These are Chinese trading companies. The Europeans have really cracked down. The United States has cracked down. But Iran can go buy the U.S., European and Japanese goods in China.”

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