China, after abstaining in U.N. vote, criticizes airstrikes on Gaddafi forces

March 21, 2011

China on Monday stepped up its criticism of the U.S.-led airstrikes against Libya, using the Communist Party’s main media organs to say the military intervention undermines the United Nations charter.

“The military attacks on Libya are, following on from the Afghan and Iraq wars, the third time that some countries have launched armed action against sovereign countries,” said a commentary in the Communist Party’s main newspaper, People’s Daily.

“In today’s world where some people with the Cold War mentality are still keen on the use of force, people have reason to express concerns about the effects of the military action,” said the commentary, signed by a name, Zhongsheng, believed to be a pseudonym.

Another Communist-run newspaper, Global Times, which is owned by People’s Daily, had a separate editorial Monday saying Western powers were now trying to take over the “jasmine revolutions” roiling the Middle East.

“The West will not give up their jurisdiction over justice and injustice,” the Global Times editorial said. “They truly believe that they are the world’s custodian and the embodiment of justice. The Jasmine Revolution actually deepens their sense of purpose, and the West cannot bear the prospect that their will might be negated by Gaddafi.”

The strong-worded critical commentaries, believed to reflect official opinion, came one day after the foreign ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, on Sunday said China “regrets” the start of military action in Libya.

China, like Russia, abstained in the Security Council vote authorizing the use of military force against Gaddafi’s forces, although as a veto-wielding member, Beijing could have blocked the resolution.

Analysts said the Chinese government was attempting to balance competing interests by trying not to specifically block a military intervention that had the support of the Arab League and the African Union, reiterating its long-standing opposition to what it deems “interference” in the affairs of sovereign nations, and at the same time protecting its standing and economic interests in the vital oil-producing Middle East.

Energy-hungry China imports about half of its oil from the Middle East and North Africa, with about 3 percent of that coming from Libya. According to the Ministry of Commerce, China currently has 75 companies doing $18.8 billion worth of business in Libya.

Before the current unrest began, there were some 36,000 Chinese citizens in Libya working on about 50 projects, including construction, drilling and infrastructure, the commerce ministry here said. Most of the Chinese workers were extracted when the violence began.

China has rarely used its veto power at the Security Council. Analysts here said China would have been in an awkward position to have vetoed the resolution against Libya at the same time Beijing is trying to improve relations with Washington and be seen as a major player taking a larger role in global affairs.

The commentary in People’s Daily took a defensive tone about China’s decision to abstain.

“On the Libyan issue, China once again insisted on consistent principles and showed the image of a responsible country,” the commentary said. “What China did can stand the test of time.”

richburgk@washpost.com

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