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Last Updated:  Friday, 21 February, 2003, 14:20 GMT
Where China stands on Iraq

By Rupert Wingfield Hayes
BBC Beijing correspondent

China's opposition to a US-led war against Iraq has been strong and consistent.

But China, a permanent member of the Un Security Council, is unlikely to use its veto to block any UN resolution supporting military action in Iraq.

US President George Bush and Chinese President Jiang Zemin, October 2001
China wants to make sure its concerns are heard
China knows that if US President George Bush fails to get a tough second resolution on Iraq from the UN, then he is quite prepared to go it alone - and that is the one thing China wants most to avoid.

China does not want to see a unilateral US war with no international supervision or controls.

"Before there is war, China first wants all other avenues exhausted," one leading Chinese academic told the BBC.

'Unfinished business'

China has good reasons for wanting to avoid a new war. Beijing is yet to be convinced that Saddam Hussein represents a real and growing threat to US national security.

China advocates a political settlement of this issue within the UN framework. [We] hold the view that in the present situation, the UN inspection work should be allowed to continue
Zhang Qiyue
Foreign ministry spokeswoman
"My impression is that the desire for war is personal," said a Chinese professor who has recently returned from a year in the US.

"It's coming from [Vice-President] Cheney and [Secretary of Defence] Rumsfeld.

"For them its unfinished business, something left over from the last Gulf War."

China is also concerned about what may come after Saddam Hussein is removed.

"What are they going to put in his place?" said the professor "A puppet American regime? Will the Iraqi people support that? Look at the trouble they're already having in Afghanistan."

Recession fears

But perhaps the most important reason China does not want a new war is oil.

A decade ago, when George Bush senior went to war with Saddam, China was a net exporter of oil. Today it is a net importer.

The volume of imports is growing rapidly and most of it is coming from the Middle East. It's feared that the war would send the price of oil on the international market soaring.

China's economy is still growing, but not nearly as fast as it was two or three years ago, and barely fast enough to create the millions of new jobs needed to maintain social and political stability.

The last thing China's Communist leaders need now is an oil shock that could send the economy spinning into recession. Add to that the potential effect of an oil shock on the US economy, already teetering on the brink of recession.

The United States is China's biggest and most important trading partner. A sharp downturn in the US economy would be a further blow to the Chinese one.

The importance China now places on the Middle East was demonstrated last month when Beijing appointed its first ever special envoy to the region.

China may not yet be in the big league when it comes to Middle East affairs, but it is determined to have its voice heard, and its concerns taken seriously.

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