To celebrate Chinese New Year last month, Dubai's swankiest hotel bathed its sail-shaped facade in red lighting accented with an image of a twisting golden dragon. The gesture by the $2,300-a-night Burj al-Arab was a not-so-subtle nod to the tightening bonds Beijing is forging with the kings and sheiks who rule the oil-rich Arab Gulf states, even as it stands firm in support for their regional rival Iran.
In many ways, China is following a course of keeping its business options open as it rolls ahead with securing the energy it needs to fuel its rapid growth. That complicates US-led efforts to force Tehran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program, but it also allows China to expand its influence in Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Gulf states long allied to the West.
"If you were to look at the Iran-China relationship in a vacuum, you'd say China imports large quantities of oil" from Iran, said Afshin Molavi, fellow at New America Foundation specialising in the Middle East.