China said Thursday that EU sanctions on Iran announced this week in response to Tehran's suspected nuclear drive were "not constructive," echoing Russia's reaction to the measures.
The European Union agreed on an embargo on Iranian oil on Monday as well as financial sanctions – adding to new US measures targeting the Islamic Republic – as the West ramps up pressure on Tehran to return to the negotiating table.
"To blindly pressure and impose sanctions on Iran are not constructive approaches," China's foreign ministry was quoted as saying by the state news agency Xinhua, in response to a question on the EU measures.
Western powers believe Iran is inching closer and closer to building a nuclear bomb and want it to return to talks on the issue, but Tehran vehemently denies this, saying its atomic programme is not for military purposes.
China – a key ally of Iran and its top trading partner – has consistently opposed the use of sanctions, and advocates resolving disputes through "dialogue and consultation" instead.
Beijing's economic ties with Tehran have expanded in recent years, partly thanks to the withdrawal of Western companies in line with sanctions against the Islamic republic over its nuclear drive.
The Asian powerhouse also depends a lot on Iranian oil, and has strengthened its presence in the country's oil and gas sector by signing a series of contracts worth up to $40 billion in the past few years.
Beijing's reaction to the crippling EU sanctions – which involve an immediate ban on oil imports and a gradual phase-out of existing contracts between now and 1 July – come after Russia said they were counterproductive.
"Unilateral sanctions do not help matters," Russian news agencies quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying Monday. "We will restrain everyone from making harsh moves. We will seek the resumption of negotiations."
Iran has threatened to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz – through which much of the global trade in oil passes – over the recent sanctions, sparking concern in China.
On a trip to the oil-rich states of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar earlier this month, China's Premier Wen Jiabao defended his country's oil trade with Iran as legitimate.
But he also signed energy deals in the UAE and Saudi Arabia – Iran's arch-rival in the region – as Iranian tensions force Beijing to look elsewhere.
According to Xinhua, the foreign ministry said China "hopes relevant parties will take approaches which are conducive to regional peace and stability."