Mo Hegemony, Mo Problems

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Blake Hounshell writes:

First, let's get one thing straight: There will be no tough sanctions. As FP's Colum Lynch has reported, China doesn't even have a go-to Iran hand right now, and has shown little interest in damaging relations with a country that supplies 11 percent of its oil imports. Beijing will see to it that whatever sanctions do pass the U.N. Security Council are toothless, as the Chinese have done on all previous occasions. They'll give just enough to allow the Obama administration to say it passed something, while wringing concessions out of Washington that we may never know about.

Hounshell makes a fair point, although I'd imagine Washington's sales pitch will go something as follows: OK, that's where you get 11 percent of your oil, but where's the other 89 percent coming from these days? While Beijing worries about easy access to 11 to 14 percent of its oil, the West could attempt to make getting the other 80 to 90 percent more difficult. Faced with that option, perhaps China yields. Who knows. China has done a lot of prospecting and signed a lot of dotted lines in Iran, but questions remain - mostly due to preexisting sanctions - over whether or not heavier long-term investment in Iran will go smoothly. China is sitting on all these oil and gas exploratory contracts, fully aware that they lack the full tech and know-how to actually extract it all.

But there's another argument to be made, and I believe we're now hearing it from Secretary Clinton, who recently said:

"China will be under a lot of pressure to recognize the destabilizing impact that a nuclear-armed Iran would have in the Gulf, from which they receive a significant percentage of their oil supply."

Hint, hint: the more you invest in the Middle East, the more you have to invest in keeping the region safe and secure. Or, in short, the Biggie Smalls Doctrine. See U.S. foreign policy (1980 - present). Does Beijing wish to embed itself in the region as the United States has? Does China want its consumption costs tied to that instability? Washington, in making a kind of anti-hegemonic appeal, might be hoping the trouble is more than China's willing to endure.

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