On Iran, China increasingly seems to be the odd man out. Not only have the French taken a surprisingly hard line in international efforts to regulate the Iranian nuclear program, but there are signs that Russia may be stiffening its resolve as well. China, by contrast, seems invariably to caution patience. Meanwhile, Chinese firms are expanding into the Iranian market at the same time that many international actors are leaving.
There was a time not so long ago when China would have been expected to undermine Western policy. In the 1960s and 1970s, the People's Republic worked to chip away at the status quo through support for insurgent groups and anti-colonial movements around the world. That time, however, has clearly passed. China's economic growth in recent decades has become increasingly contingent on global stability. Almost by stealth, China moved from being a revolutionary power to being a status quo one.
Chinese emotions do not match their interests, however. Chinese scholars still rail against Western hegemony, and Chinese diplomats speak solemnly about the importance of non-interference in the affairs of other states. At least verbally, China has called for Persian Gulf security to be the responsibility of the states bordering the Gulf -- an implicit call for a U.S. withdrawal.