China asks UAE to argue case for islands occupied by Iran

Peaceful resolution of dispute with Iran over three Gulf islands occupied since 1971 is a 'valid demand', Chinese representatives say.

DUBAI // Chinese parliamentary leaders have invited an FNC delegation to Beijing to make the UAE's case for regaining control of three Gulf islands occupied by Iran. There is "understanding and support from China to the concept of a peaceful solution to the islands issue with the Islamic Republic of Iran", the Speaker of the FNC, Abdul Aziz al Ghurair, said yesterday. "They said, 'we are with the UAE' in that direction and that resolution, the peaceful resolution, and it is a valid demand."

Mr al Ghurair was speaking after a meeting between FNC representatives and a delegation of 21 Chinese parliamentary officials, including Li Jianguo, the vice chairman and secretary general of the National People's Congress, China's legislative body. The delegation stopped short of explicitly acknowledging the UAE's right to the islands, but invited officials to address the issue at a follow-up parliamentary meeting in China early next year.

"Mr Li invited us to visit China and present the idea to Chinese officials and the head of the Chinese congress," Mr al Ghurair said. Iran illegally occupied the islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs, part of an archipelago near the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, in 1971. The UAE has called for bilateral talks or international arbitration. "We call on the Iranian side to take part in direct negotiations or to take it to the International Court of Justice," Mr al Ghurair said. He said he hoped China would declare its support for this position in the international arena.

Iran has rejected talks. In an interview with The National this month, its new ambassador to the UAE, Mohammad Reza Fayyaz, said he preferred to take the "glass half-full" view of UAE-Iran relations. China offered to help to mediate in the dispute last year. Mustafa Alani, a security expert at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai, said the question was whether Beijing was now engaging in "diplomatic niceties" or whether their offer could translate into material support should the UAE take up the issue at the UN Security Council.

"If the UAE goes to the Security Council on this issue, Chinese support would be vital," Dr Alani said. Beijing wields considerable influence over Tehran, particularly in light of new sanctions, he said. China is involved in multibillion-dollar oil and gas deals with Iran, but it is unclear whether those contracts translate into persuasive power at the UN. "The problem with Chinese politics is they always dance around the fire," Dr Alani said.

Mr al Ghurair said: "No doubt China has a strong relationship with Iran and there are joint interests. But China also has principles that include stabilising the security situation in the Gulf." China is the UAE's second-largest trading partner, according to the Ministry of Foreign Trade. China exported goods worth Dh49billion to the UAE in 2009. Non-oil exports from the UAE to China were worth Dh837 million in 2009. There are 370 Emirati companies in China and more than 1,000 Chinese companies in the UAE. "There is a lot of compatibility between the UAE and China in a lot of positions nationally, regionally and internationally," Mr al Ghurair said. "We called on the Chinese to have an active role in the security and stability of Asia as a whole. China is a crucial member of the UN Security Council. It is required of them to intervene on Asia's security as a whole." Although China relies on the Gulf and Africa for a large portion of its energy needs, it has yet to show active commitment to regional security, Dr Alani said. It still thinks of the region in the context of a "buyer and seller" relationship without a strategic dimension, he said. The Chinese delegation also pledged its support for a UAE initiative to hold an emergency session on responding to natural disasters, particularly in light of the floods that have devastated Pakistan, at an international parliamentary conference next month in Geneva. The delegations discussed ways of strengthening ties between China and the UAE. Among those is the creation of a "friendship committee" and a plan to send Emirati students to study in China. kshaheen@thenational.a