Westward-leaning China sees itself in new superpower role


When China's Foreign Minister, Mr Qian Qichen, called the US Secretary of State, Ms Madeleine Albright, last week, he was not just signalling China's opposition to the use of force, but that China now sees itself as a world superpower whose interests stretch far beyond its region.

The United States has responded by sending the US ambassador to the UN, Mr Bill Richardson, to Beijing to lobby against China's use of its Security Council veto in the event of that Washington deciding decides to use force. Mr Richardson will arrive in China on Saturday.

Meanwhile, China is initiating diplomatic contacts to highlight its role in seeking a peaceful end to the crisis. Yesterday, the Assistant Foreign Minister, Mr Ji Peiding, met ambassadors of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar to discuss the situation. Mr Ji also met the Iraqi ambassador and passed on the message that the Chinese President, Mr Jiang Zemin, was deeply concerned about the situation and opposed the use of force. "China always believes that disputes should be resolved by peaceful means and it is not in favour of resolving the crisis by force," Mr Ji said.

Beijing has consistently called for restraint and flexibility, stressing that force will be counter-productive, while urging Baghdad to co-operate fully with the UN.

China clearly does not wish to quarrel with the US while it is engaged in strengthening its political and economic ties with the West and preparing for a state visit by President Clinton later this year. Beijing is unlikely, therefore, to use its right of veto in the Security Council. It is more likely to abstain as it did during the 1991 Gulf crisis.

Since the beginning of this year, China has sent three specialists to participate in the inspection work of the UN and has also sent specialists to appraise the technology for weapon inspections held in Iraq. In Brussels yesterday, China's Vice Premier, Mr Li Lanqing, said he believed a peaceful resolution was still possible and the international community should do its best to avoid using force.