China, which voted for new UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, said on Thursday that the punishment does not mean the door to a diplomatic solution is closed and called for renewed efforts at negotiations.
China is a key ally of Iran and could have vetoed the resolution that targets Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, ballistic missiles and nuclear-related investments. It had been a vocal opponent of a fourth round of sanctions and its support came about only in recent months after intense lobbying by the United States and its allies.
"China always holds that the correct way to address the Iranian nuclear issue is through dialogue, negotiation and other diplomatic means to seek a solution that satisfies the concerns of all parties," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement. "The fact that the UN Security Council passed the resolution does not mean the door to diplomatic efforts is closed," he said.
In New York, China's UN Ambassador Li Baodong said after Wednesday's vote that the sanctions were aimed at curbing nonproliferation and would not affect "the normal life of the Iranian people" nor deter normal trade activity. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was set to arrive in China later Thursday to tour the World Expo in Shanghai, but he was not expected to hold talks with senior Chinese leaders. China depends on oil- and gas-rich Iran for 11 percent of its energy needs and last year became Tehran's biggest trading partner, according to Iranian figures.
Beijing has said it opposes nuclear weapons for Iran but supports an Iranian civilian nuclear energy program. China traditionally opposes sanctions, but it went along with the first three sanctions resolutions against Iran.
Tehran insists its program is peaceful. The U.S. and its allies say Iran is trying to produce nuclear weapons; they want Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and start negotiations aimed at ensuring that it uses nuclear technology only for peaceful purposes.