Talks with China continued, but China publicly criticised EU sanctions against Iran. Chinese reluctance also delayed action against North Korea.
Europeans seek to cooperate with China in stopping nuclear proliferation, in particular in Iran and North Korea. They are directly involved in negotiations on Iran through the E3 (France, the UK, and Germany). In 2012, the EU wanted China to support an international consensus on dealing with Iran or at least to agree to not undermine or dilute such initiatives through its bilateral engagement with Iran. The EU kept open lines of communication with China, both in official talks and in the separate strategic dialogue, but China remained non-committal. Although Beijing has no desire to see a nuclear-armed Iran, it does not believe in crippling sanctions or a military strike to prevent Iran developing nuclear weapons.
China did not support the sanctions that the EU unilaterally imposed on Iran in 2012 and even criticised the EU publicly by calling sanctions a tool to intensify “confrontation”. Instead, a foreign ministry spokesperson said China wanted to continue “normal and transparent trade and energy exchanges” with Iran. European pressure, both in the E3+3 meetings and through bilateral channels, did not produce any more common ground on how to proceed. However, China’s Arab partners had more success than the Europeans. China’s increasing dependence on the Gulf for oil meant that Wen Jiabao had to criticise Iran more sharply than usual during a visit to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
Europeans are not directly involved in the stalled Six-Party talks on the North Korean nuclear programme. After Kim Jong-un took over from his father at the end of 2011, North Korea successfully launched a long-range rocket in December after a first launch in March spectacularly failed. The EU responded with statements of protest. But although China said it also regretted the rocket launch, Europeans and other international partners were unable to persuade it to take immediate action against North Korea in the UNSC (though it agreed in early 2013 to tighten sanctions).