Get the latest market trends in your inbox

Stay on top of the latest market trends and economic insights with the Axios Markets newsletter. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Minneapolis-St. Paul

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa-St. Petersburg news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa-St. Petersburg

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during the meeting of the UN General Assembly on Sept. 25. Photo: Alexander Shcherbak/TASS via Getty Images

On Nov. 4, the U.S. will re-impose sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the Iran nuclear deal. In response, the Bank of Kunlun, which handles China’s financial transactions with Iran, informed customers that on Nov. 1 it will stop processing them. China’s largest oil refiners, Sinopec and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), may also stop importing Iranian oil in November.

Why it matters: China is Iran’s largest oil importer and most important trading partner. Because China is better insulated from U.S. sanctions than other major importers, Iran could avoid the worst economic effects of U.S. sanctions if China continues buying its oil. But if China cuts back, Iran will likely pull out of the nuclear deal, leaving it free to resume an unrestricted nuclear program.

The background: Nevertheless, Chinese government officials have been deeply critical of President Trump’s nuclear deal withdrawal. At the UN Security Council's September meeting, Foreign Minister Wang stressed economic sovereignty and defended “the legitimate right of all countries to normal economic relations and trade with Iran.”

There are three ways to think about China’s latest moves:

  1. A bargaining strategy. China is seeking discounts and other favorable commercial terms for continued trade with Iran, so leaking that its oil refiners are rethinking their positions gives China leverage. Since Trump is sensitive to oil prices, China may also be trying to soften the U.S. position by surprising the market and pushing prices up.
  2. A way to restructure trade with Iran. China may simply be further insulating its biggest firms from Iran-related sanctions by removing them from this trading relationship, leaving smaller Chinese refiners and banks to step into the gaps left by Kunlun, Sinopac and CNPC. This would put some effective limits on Iranian oil sales and other trade without totally shutting it down.
  3. A diplomatic concession. If China is preparing to comply with re-imposed U.S. sanctions, it might be as a sweetener to secure a Trump–Xi meeting at the November G20 to make progress on the trade war, which is vastly more important to both countries than Iran sanctions.  

The bottom line: In any case, the Trump administration has succeeded in creating the impression that China bowed to U.S. pressure, something China was careful to avoid when it substantially reduced Iranian oil purchases under President Obama. By acting before Trump’s November deadline and leaking waiver requests, China has made, in principle, an important concession.

Jarrett Blanc is a senior fellow in the Geoeconomics and Strategy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Go deeper

Scoop: FDA chief called to West Wing

Stephen Hahn. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has summoned FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn to the West Wing for a 9:30am meeting Tuesday to explain why he hasn't moved faster to approve the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, two senior administration officials told Axios.

Why it matters: The meeting is shaping up to be tense, with Hahn using what the White House will likely view as kamikaze language in a preemptive statement to Axios: "Let me be clear — our career scientists have to make the decision and they will take the time that’s needed to make the right call on this important decision."

Scoop: Schumer's regrets

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images   

Chuck Schumer told party donors during recent calls that the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the fact that Cal Cunningham "couldn't keep his zipper up" crushed Democrats' chances of regaining the Senate, sources with direct knowledge of the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: Democrats are hoping for a 50-50 split by winning two upcoming special elections in Georgia. But their best chance for an outright Senate majority ended when Cunningham lost in North Carolina and Sen. Susan Collins won in Maine.

Trump's coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas resigns

Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty

Scott Atlas, a controversial member of the White House coronavirus task force, handed in his resignation on Monday, according to three administration officials who discussed Atlas' resignation with Axios.

Why it matters: President Trump brought in Atlas as a counterpoint to NIAID director Anthony Fauci, whose warnings about the pandemic were dismissed by the Trump administration. With Trump now fixated on election fraud conspiracy theories, Atlas' detail comes to a natural end.