BEIJING  - China rejected President Barack Obama’s decision to move forward with plans for sanctions on countries buying oil from Iran, saying Saturday that Washington had no right to unilaterally punish other nations.

South Korean officials said they will continue working with the US to reduce oil imports from Iran, as other US allies who depend on Iranian oil worked to find alternative energy supplies.

Obama announced Friday that he is plowing ahead with the potential sanctions, which could affect US allies in Asia and Europe, as part of a deepening campaign to starve Iran of money for its disputed nuclear programme. The US and allies believe that Iran is pursuing a nuclear bomb; Iran denies that.

China is one of the biggest importers of Iranian oil, and its Foreign Ministry reiterated its opposition to the US moves. “The Chinese side always opposes one country unilaterally imposing sanctions against another according to domestic law. Furthermore it does not accept the unilateral imposition of those sanctions on a third country,” the ministry said in a brief statement Saturday. In a bold move revealed by President Obama, the US will exclude Iran’s trading partners including the likes of China, Turkey and India from its financial system if they fail to reduce the amount of the oil they import from Iran.

The sanctions were passed by Congress in December, but Obama had until Friday to decide on the impact the reduction in Iranian oil would have on the US and the world economy.

In a statement from the white House, Obama said he decided that there were enough non-Iranian supplies to allow the reduction of oil imports from Iran. “There is a sufficient supply of petroleum and petroleum products from other countries other than Iran to permit a significant reduction in volume purchased from Iran by or through foreign financial institutions”, the statement read. He added many of Iran’s oil importers have already reduced their quota or are looking for alternative suppliers.

The sanctions are due to come into effect on 28th June.

 while the EU is due to impose its oil embargo on 1st July.