China defended its purchasing of Iranian oil as necessary for its economic development. The Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun said so after a visit to China by US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
“Iran is an extremely big oil supplier to China, and we hope that China's oil imports won't be affected, because this is needed for our development," Zhai said [Reuters, 11 January].
Secretary Geithner held meetings on Wednesday with senior Chinese officials including Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice President Xi Jinping seeking support for new US sanctions targeting the flow of Iran’s oil revenues through the global banking system. China is Iran's biggest oil customer.
“We oppose applying pressure and sanctions, because these approaches won't solve the problems. They never have,” Zhai told reporters. “We hope that these unilateral sanctions will not affect China's interests,” he added.
However in a pricing and contract terms dispute with Iran, China has reduced its crude purchases for January and February. It is believed that China is using the weakened Iranian position to sell its crude to some of its old customers, both in Europe and Asia, to obtain bargain prices.