BEIJING (Reuters) - China's top newspaper on Thursday slammed U.S. moves to restrict Iran's oil trade which could see Chinese banks sanctioned, saying such unilateral action was not only wrong but could exacerbate the stand-off over Iran's nuclear program.
The United States has exempted Japan and 10 EU nations from financial sanctions because they have significantly cut purchases of Iranian oil, but Iran's top customers China and India remain at risk.
The decision means banks in the 11 countries have been given a six-month reprieve from the threat of being cut off from the U.S. financial system under the new sanctions designed to pressure Iran over a nuclear program the West suspects is aimed at producing weapons. Iran says it merely intends to boost electricity output.
The People's Daily, the official newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party, said in a commentary that the U.S. move was misguided and selfish and China had every right to import oil from Iran.
"One stand-out feature of unilateralism is this: that one's own rules become the world's rules. Everyone must respect them, and if you don't, then you will be punished," the paper said, adding that previous unilateralism by the United States had led to the quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Why is it that so-called order in such places has been slow and unobtainable, and that turmoil has continued?" the commentary said.
"The facts have proved again and again that unilateralism is not the way to resolve the world's problems, and that it will only complicate and exacerbate the situation, and not only not douse the flames but may even fan them."
The People's Daily commentary was published under the pen name "Zhong Sheng", meaning "Voice of China", which is often used to give the paper's view on foreign policy issues.
Japan, China and India combined buy close to half of Iran's crude exports of 2.6 million barrels a day, providing crucial foreign exchange for the OPEC member.
But the U.S. sanctions and an EU oil embargo have cut Iran out of financial networks, making it difficult to transfer funds to pay for trade and disrupting some oil shipments because of the difficulty of securing shipping insurance.
Domestic prices in Iran have spiraled higher and the rial has slumped in value.
However, China slashed its crude oil imports from Iran by half in February from December levels to pressure Tehran in a contract dispute, while increasing its purchases from Iran's rival, Saudi Arabia, to a record level to fill the gap.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)