Ali Khalil, AFP
Last updated: 16 January, 2012

China’s Wen vows to promote Mideast peace

China’s prime minister vowed on Monday to keep promoting peace in energy-rich Middle East and North Africa through the United Nations, at a time of high tension between the West and major oil producer Iran.

“As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a responsible country, China will continue to work with the rest of the international community to promote peace, stability and development in West Asia (Middle East) and North Africa,” Prime Minister Wen Jiabao told participants at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi.

He highlighted the region’s “strategic and important position” because it sits on “more than half of the world’s proven oil deposits and over 40 percent of global natural gas reserves”.

Wen also stressed at the summit attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon the need to “effectively safeguard energy security,” highlighting the importance of protecting routes of oil shipments and supply to maintain market stability.

“To ensure the safe transport, effective supply and market stability of energy products serves the common interests of emerging economies, developed countries and energy exporting nations,” he said.

He said the “international monetary system, excessive speculation, operational monopoly and geopolitical factors” had driven up energy prices “to a great extent, from the supply-and-demand relations.”

The UN chief stressed the need to promote equality in access to energy.

“It is neither just nor sustainable that one person in five still lacks access to modern electricity,” he told participants.

“It is not acceptable that three billion people have to rely on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heating,” he added.

On Sunday, Wen was in Saudi Arabia, China’s largest supplier of oil, and met with King Abdullah as part of a Gulf tour that will also include Qatar.

Wen’s trip comes as the West steps up the stakes in a standoff with Iran over its nuclear programme, threatening to impose sanctions on the oil exports of the Islamic republic, which provides 11 percent of China’s oil imports.

Iran is the third largest provider of oil to China, while Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, although both major oil-producing states, do not figure among the top 10 oil exporters to Beijing.

The premier’s Gulf visit comes shortly after Wen met with US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who was in Beijing to drum up support for new US sanctions that aim to squeeze Iran’s crucial oil revenues.

The measures bar any foreign banks which do business with Iran’s central bank — responsible for processing most oil purchases in the Islamic republic — from US financial markets.

China opposes the sanctions on Iran, which Washington and other nations accuse of developing nuclear weapons — a charge denied by Tehran.

In Saudi Arabia, the two sides inked several economic and cultural deals including a memorandum of understanding between Saudi petrochemical giant SABIC and China’s Sinopec to build a petrochemical plant in Tianjin, official Saudi news agency SPA said.

They also signed a cooperation agreement for the “peaceful use of nuclear energy,” it added, without elaborating.