Source: Global Times Published: 2020-1-9
The US and Iran both showed wisdom and restraint to manage the crisis after the missile attacks launched by Iran at US military targets in Iraq for the assassination of Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani, said Chinese experts, but they warned that the tension will remain as Iran will keep trying to push the US out of the region.
US President Donald Trump said at a press conference in Washington, DC Wednesday that "No Americans were harmed" in the missile attacks by Iran. He didn't say the US would launch a military retaliation, only that it would impose "additional punishing economic sanctions" on Iran.
Chinese experts said this is good news for the world that tensions are likely to be eased.
Diao Daming, an associate professor at Renmin University of China, said that Trump's address showed that the US has already got what it wants, such as the death of a major hostile figure in the region, and avoiding a military retaliation has also pacified Americans worried about a war.
"Additionally, Trump also forced Iran to change its stance on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA] nuclear deal, as the US has already withdrawn from it," he noted.
"That's why the US can tolerate the attacks," he said. "This also showed that Iran is restrained."
An expert with a Beijing-based military academy who requested anonymity said the attacks have damaged some US equipment and facilities, but no one was hurt, "so the US and Iran might have some tacit understanding to manage the tension. The US let Iran hit its military bases, and Iran hit targets without injuring US personnel."
CNN reported that daylight and satellite images appear to show the aftermath of Iranian missile strikes at an Iraqi military base that houses US troops.
Of 22 missiles fired early Wednesday by Iran at coalition bases in Iraq, 17 hit the al-Asad air base, the Iraqi military said in a statement.
Now the challenge is on Iran's side. Chinese experts asked whether those furious Iranians are going to accept that no US personnel were killed, and whether Tehran could give up further retaliation.
Diao said if Iran launches another round of attacks, whether it causes American casualties or not, Trump would not be able to maintain restraint, and there would be an escalation.
Negotiation or show
"The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it," Trump said at the press conference.
Trump also urged the relevant parties of the JCPOA, including China, Russia, the UK, France and Germany, to realize that the JCPOA is ineffective in stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and a new Iran nuclear deal is needed.
Diao said the effectiveness of the JCPOA depends on the US. "If the US can't keep its words and always fails to fulfill a signed agreement, no deal would be effective."
China, as a responsible major power of the world and a relevant party of the JCPOA, will keep making efforts to bring the US and Iran back to the negotiating table, "but the key to a solution is not in China's hands but in the hands of the US and Iran," he noted.
In a letter to the UN Security Council, US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said the US also stands "ready to engage without preconditions in serious negotiations with Iran, with the goal of preventing further endangerment of international peace and security or escalation by the Iranian regime," Reuters reported on Thursday.
Hua Liming, a former Chinese ambassador to Iran, told the Global Times that after the US unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA, the Trump administration always wanted to engage with Iran to negotiate a new deal, but Iran said the precondition is the US should relieve all sanctions against Iran.
"So the letter to the UN Security Council from the US Ambassador is actually a show to other countries," Hua said.
The letter was to show Washington is a peace-lover rather than a warmonger. But actually if the US really wanted to talk with Iran, it doesn't need to write a letter to the UN. It could just relieve sanctions or start bilateral negotiations in Switzerland or other channels, Hua noted.
Web users' views
Many Chinese web users also paid close attention to Trump's address. Some Chinese netizens believe Trump is the one who "appears to be standing down," and many of them admire Iran's courage since it might be one of very few countries that dare to directly strike US military bases.
The topic "Trump address on Iran missile attack" received more than 680 million views on China's Twitter-like social media network Sina Weibo, and this was one of the top 10 topics of Sina Weibo on Thursday.
"Trump said if Iran attacks the US he will give an order to destroy 52 targets in Iran, including ancient cultural relics. So what now? He said Iran appears to be standing down, but I think the US is the one who is really standing down," said a web user.
Another one said, "Although Iran's missiles killed no one in the US bases, can anyone tell me if the US would tolerate it in the past? This is good example for the rest of world to counter US hegemony."
Some web users believe that the US has paid no price but successfully eliminated Soleimani, while Iran has to swallow the bitter pill since it cannot afford a real military retaliation that might result in an all-out war.
Hua said this kind of thinking is one-sided because the US has to pay heavy price for killing Soleimani - a significant damage to its soft power.
"The majority of the international community knows that the US operation was a terrorist act, and even Iran's major rivals in this region, Israel and Saudi Arabia, dare not praise the US," Hua said.
What Iran gained from this incident was that the Iraqi parliament called on US troops to leave Iraq, and this was actually what Iran really wanted, but the missile strikes also offended Iraqi sovereignty, Hua noted.
Hua Liming is a senior fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.