BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Thursday criticized the European Union for banning oil imports from Iran, Beijing's third biggest crude supplier and a major trading partner.
The European Union agreed on Monday to ban imports of oil from Iran and imposed a number of other economic sanctions, joining the United States in a new round of measures aimed at pushing Iran into reining in its nuclear activities that Tehran says are for peaceful purposes.
China, the world's second largest crude consumer, has long opposed unilateral sanctions that target Iran's energy sector and has tried to reduce tensions that could threaten its oil supply.
Last week, Beijing told a visiting Iranian delegation that returning to nuclear talks was a "top priority." During a tour to Arab states earlier this month, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao also made a strong statement opposing Iran developing and possessing nuclear weapons, but defended China's right to buy Iranian crude oil as normal trade activity.
Asked about the EU embargo, China's Foreign Ministry said in a faxed statement: "It is not a constructive approach to simply pile up the pressure and impose sanctions."
"China hopes relevant parties to resort to measures conducive to regional peace and stability," the statement added.
China is the largest buyer of Iranian crude oil, importing 30 percent more from Iran in 2011 compared to the previous year. But China halved its purchases from Iran in January and February, following a dispute over the terms of payment.
(Reporting by Chen Aizhu and Tracy Zheng; editing by Miral Fahmy)