China and Russia have accelerated their coordination on international issues involving Iran and North Korea in the final weeks of this year as the United States' own hard-line approaches were met with increasing difficulties.
Threats of an undesirable "Christmas gift" teased by North Korea never came to fruition as the U.S. allowed the holiday to pass with no new plan to move forward with their denuclearization-for-peace process, but China and Russia have sought to avoid a new crisis in the region by going their own route. The two powers introduced a United Nations Security Council draft resolution that would give supreme leader Kim Jong Un something he wanted: partial sanctions relief.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told a press briefing Monday in Beijing that the two countries' efforts were meant "to maintain peace and stability on the Peninsula, stick to dialogue and consultation to resolve disputes, and advance the establishment of a permanent peace regime and complete denuclearization on the Peninsula in parallel."
"Our proposal to adjust some of the sanctions on the DPRK is to meet the reasonable humanitarian and livelihood needs of the DPRK people in support of the process of political dialogue," Geng said, using an acronym for the official name of North Korea.
"China and Russia are now in contact with other Security Council members and relevant parties of the Peninsula issue on the content of the draft resolution," he added. "We expect members of the Security Council to shoulder their responsibility and take active moves to support political settlement, encourage talks and safeguard peace and stability on the Peninsula."
France, the United Kingdom and the U.S., however, have argued that the lifting of international sanctions targeting North Korea should first require the elusive, militarized state to shutter its nuclear weapons program. China and Russia's joint proposal would need to not be vetoed by these three fellow permanent U.N. Security Council members and receive nine votes of approval in all.
Beijing and Moscow have so far backed President Donald Trump's historic efforts to make peace with Kim but have tried to encourage him to be more forthcoming with suspending economic restrictions and joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises viewed as provocative by North Korea. The White House, however, has largely stuck to its "maximum pressure" strategy, an approach that also came at odds with Russia and China's stance toward another longtime U.S. adversary, Iran.
Both countries joined the U.S., as well as the European Union, France, Germany and the U.K. to sign the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, but Trump left the deal last year unilaterally imposing its own sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Since then, Washington and Tehran have blamed one another for destabilizing the Persian Gulf region and potentially threatening the flow of international oil. Here too, Geng told reporters Monday that "China and Russia have been in close communication and coordination."
Geng said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif recently spoke by telephone with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and was set to visit Beijing on Tuesday. First, however, Zarif traveled to the Russian capital and discussed the Iranian nuclear deal with his Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, whose top diplomat "spoke about the serious efforts that we are making to maintain this important international agreement that the United States is trying to undermine as a result of the destructive line that Washington continues."
"We discussed the situation in the Persian Gulf," Lavrov added, touting both Russian and Iranian initiatives to create an international coalition rivaling a U.S.-led maritime unit currently patrolling the restive Persian Gulf. "Russia and Iran advocate pooling the efforts of all interested states to ensure security and stability in this region."
Unrest in this energy-critical region has only worsened, however, as Washington blamed Tehran for attacks on tanker vessels, Saudi oil facilities and military installations associated with U.S. military presence in Iraq. In an unprecedented move, the Pentagon conducted what it called "defensive strikes" Sunday against Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah, a close partner of Iran, in Iraq and Syria after a rocket attack killed one Pentagon contractor and injured several U.S. and Iraqi personnel Thursday in northern Iraq.
Iranian officials, including President Hassan Rouhani, strongly denied having ordered the attack on U.S. personnel and condemned the U.S. operation. Even top officials in Baghdad, a close partner of Washington and Tehran, criticized the U.S. move as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
In a statement published Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it "took with serious concern the exchange of attacks" between the U.S. and Iraq militias and that it found "such actions unacceptable and counterproductive." During his press conference that same day, Geng said that "China has always opposed the use of force in international relations and advocates that all parties should abide by the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter and the basic principles of international relations."
The latest escalations came after Russian, Chinese and Iranian forces launched their first-ever joint naval exercises in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman, further sign of Beijing and Moscow's willingness to counter Washington's efforts to isolate Tehran internationally.