War in the Balkans: Diplomatic Visit - China accepts high-risk role

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The Independent Online
CHINA'S PRIME Minister, Zhu Rongji, flies to the United States today, with Peking vehemently opposed to Nato action in Kosovo and criticising interference in Yugoslavia's internal affairs. In the run-up to his departure to California, Mr Zhu warned that military intervention set a "very bad precedent. All internal matters should be left for a country itself to resolve," he said. "If we should refuse to recognise a country's sovereignty, I'm afraid that would lead to a world war."

The mouthpiece of China's army, the Liberation Daily, threw its weight behind China's strongly pro-Serbian coverage of the crisis yesterday. "Nato will soon learn how hard it is to dismount when riding a tiger," it said, "and may compound error upon error until it finally sends in troops."

Media coverage has concentrated on the suffering of the Serbs, blamed Nato for the refugee crisis, and ignored Serb "ethnic cleansing" of the Kosovars. The situation has parallels with China's difficulties over Taiwan and Tibet and possible future US involvement in any conflict between Peking and Taiwan. China has never relinquished its right to use military force to secure reunification with Taiwan.

China considered cancelling Mr Zhu's trip in protest over Kosovo, but decided to go ahead given the already sour state of Sino-US relations. Even before, ties were mired in acrimony over alleged Chinese nuclear spying, a crackdown on mainland dissidents and the burgeoning trade deficit. Up until recent days, hopes had been pinned on a breakthrough in negotiations over China's entry into the World Trade Organisation, but last-minute talks failed to secure a deal.

"The US domestic political climate is so hostile right now to China that he is walking into a snakepit," said Professor David Shambaugh, a China specialist at George Washington University. He described Mr Zhu's visit as "high risk. He is going to be dogged by demonstrations across the country and depending on how he answers questions on sensitive issues such as Tibet, human rights, Taiwan, those demonstrations may grow."