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Trump Administration’s Actions in Middle East Weaken Its Criticisms of China

His aggressive push on Iran, which reached a new level of hostility with the killing of General Suleimani, has underscored that view of Washington’s policy, though officials argue that the Trump administration was seeking to deter Iran from attacking American interests.

The fact that the strike against General Suleimani took place in Iraq, where the United States has been at war since President George W. Bush invaded the country in 2003, has allowed China to cloak its language on American policy in moral superiority. Mr. Trump ordered 4,500 more troops to the region after the strike. On Thursday, Mr. Geng, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said senior Chinese and Russian officials had recently discussed the rising regional tensions and had committed to “jointly uphold international justice and regional peace and stability.”

Mr. Geng noted that the Trump administration, in withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal, “neglected international law and its international obligations” and “obstructed other parties in keeping their commitments.”

“Such practices are the root cause of current tensions,” he added.

Washington’s European allies would agree with that assessment. Along with China and Russia, they have stayed in the agreement and tried to persuade Iran to do so, despite Washington’s increasing sanctions. To try to get Mr. Trump to lift the sanctions, Iran’s military began taking more forceful action in the region last year, and Tehran announced it was breaching some of the agreement’s limits on its nuclear program, even though it had been abiding by the deal.

On Sunday, after the killing of General Suleimani, Tehran said it was ending limits on uranium enrichment, though it said it might return to the commitments later.

The prospect of Iran accelerating its nuclear program raises anxiety levels in the region, even in the governments of Israel and gulf Arab countries that criticized the 2015 deal as being beneficial for their enemies in Tehran. And among the nations that foresaw the firestorm that would come with Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the deal and imposition of sanctions in a “maximum pressure” campaign, Beijing’s admonitions of American policy appear justified. The chaos around the killing of Mr. Suleimani only goes to strengthen China’s arguments.

“If the aftermath of this assassination leads to more regional instability with continued confusion about U.S. commitment and objectives, U.S. relations across the region could worsen,” said Dalia Dassa Kaye, an Iran expert at the RAND Corporation, a research group. “We should never discount that people in the region can resent both Iranian and American involvement in the region at the same time.”

Against that backdrop, China is all too happy to swoop in.

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