Qian Qichen, the foreign minister, yesterday telephoned Madeleine Albright, his US counterpart, and told her: "China does not favour the use of force against Iraq." He added that Peking was "quite uneasy" about the "increasingly deteriorating" situation with Iraq over weapons inspection.
Speaking on Chinese television yesterday, Mr Qian said: "China is extremely and definitely opposed to the use of military force because its use will result in ... casualties and create more turmoil in the region and even could cause new conflicts."
China is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council with the power of veto. In 1990 Peking abstained in the vote over military action against Saddam Hussein.
Mr Qian told Mrs Albright: "The Chinese side hopes that the parties concerned would adopt restraint ... and continue seeking the settlement of differences through dialogues."
Peking has also made it clear to Baghdad that Iraq must comply with UN resolutions requiring unlimited access to suspected weapons sites. China yesterday said it had sent a letter to Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, demanding that Baghdad co-operate with UN inspectors.
Mr Qian is trying to co-ordinate China's position with Russia, whose deputy foreign minister is in Peking for talks today. A spokesman for the Russian embassy in Peking said: "Our views coincide ... [on Iraq]. We want a peaceful solution."
Peking has made no secret of wanting to re-establish trade links with Baghdad. In 1996 China announced it was holding talks with Iraq to sign what it described as "massive" oil exploration contracts.
- Teresa Poole, PekingReuse content