Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese companies have been selling to Iran high-performance metals apparently intended for the Islamic Republic’s missile program. These materials include tungsten copper ingots and aluminum and titanium sheets. Some of these items are not subject to international bans and all of them are dual use. Beijing has denied any wrongdoing in this instance. China, the Foreign Ministry claims, “has been strictly implementing” international rules against sales of prohibited items.
Due to U.S. and UN sanctions, Iran has had to resort to using front companies to source components for its various weapons programs. Now, as in the past, Chinese companies have been willing to make sales, both prohibited and otherwise, to the Iranians. Virtually all of these companies are owned by the Chinese government, and that raises the issue of Beijing’s culpability.
Many excuse Chinese officials, arguing they cannot control all the country’s factories, especially now that their managers are expected to run profitable operations. Yet China is still a one-party state that can, when it applies itself, track down a wanted dissident to an upland hamlet a thousand miles from Beijing. It is inconceivable that the Chinese government does not know about sales across China’s borders of sensitive items from its own enterprises to a country like Iran.
Especially when the sales are continuous. This decade, the United States has, on numerous occasions, sanctioned Chinese missile-related sales to Iran. Washington, however, refuses to do anything effective about them, like imposing meaningful penalties on the Chinese central government itself. Instead, we announce slap-on-the-wrist measures on its low-level instrumentalities. In these circumstances, Beijing officials know we’re not serious about defending ourselves, so they continue to sell items to Iran.
We have the power to stop these sales, but we are refusing to do so.