China Demands Halt to Attack on Iraq
By Audra Ang
The Associated Press
Thursday 20 March 2003
China demanded Thursday that military action against Iraq stop immediately and said the initial attack was "violating the norms of international behavior."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said the beginning of the attack took place "in disregard for the opposition of the international community."
"Military action against Iraq is violating the norms of international behavior," Kong said at a regular news briefing. "We express regret and disappointment."
He said China continues to maintain that "the Iraq question can be solved peacefully."
In a phone conversation late Thursday, Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan told U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that China "strongly urged an end to military actions against Iraq so as to avoid hurting innocent people," the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Tang also told Powell that China is "deeply worried about humanitarian disasters, regional turbulence" and other ramifications of the war, the report said.
China has long opposed the war and says it wants the problem of Iraq's weapons to be dealt with by the U.N. Security Council, not just the United States. China is a permanent council member with veto power.
"We urge the relevant countries to stop using force, to stop military action," Kong said. "The Iraqi question must return to the track of political settlement within the U.N. framework."
He didn't immediately say what, if anything, China's leaders might do in protest, but stressed that they would "take their own actions to reflect" the country's goals.
He also appealed to other countries to step in.
"We are deeply concerned about the loss of lives and property that might follow. We are also worried about its impact on peace and the development of the world."
Kong did not mention the United States by name in answering reporters' questions, referring only to "the relevant countries."
China's response had a milder tone than it could have had, said Zhang Yebai, a government adviser on U.S. policy with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.
"I think the word choice - the language we used - was pretty restrained, pretty limited," Zhang said.
Making a formal protest or describing the action as an "invasion" would have registered a tougher stance, he said.
Beijing's response was calculated not to offend because President Hu Jintao and other newly installed leaders don't want friction with the United States to disrupt Beijing's focus on its economy and dealing with civil unrest, he said.
China closed its embassy in Iraq and withdrew all personnel Tuesday, Kong said.
Beijing would soon be talking to other countries about what to do next, he said.
State television ran unprecedented live coverage of the first U.S. and British attack as it unfolded, signaling intense concern among Beijing's new leaders.
The initial action in Iraq - which took place Thursday morning in Beijing - presents Hu and his new government with an immediate foreign policy crisis.
Security cordons tightened Thursday around foreign diplomatic installations in China, including the U.S. and Iraqi embassies.
In Beijing's diplomatic district this week, extra guards have been posted outside embassies and streets closed to vehicle traffic. Paramilitary police demanded identification and barred taxis from entering compounds that house diplomats and foreign journalists.
On Thursday morning, barricades went up in front of the Iraqi Embassy in Beijing. The American and Iraqi embassies are just three blocks away from each other here.
Kong said "the entire Chinese security apparatus" would protect foreigners in China.
In a Muslim neighborhood near Niujie Mosque, Beijing's oldest and most prominent, many were opposed to U.S. actions.
"What's America thinking?" asked shopkeeper Hong Ji, 50. "Iraq is so far from the United States. Saddam hasn't done anything against the United States."
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