BEIJING, AUG. 5 -- China, joining a growing list of countries that have imposed sanctions against Iraq, announced today that it will no longer sell arms to Baghdad after its invasion of Kuwait.
In a brief dispatch by the official New China News Agency, an unidentified Foreign Ministry spokesman said China had voted for the U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Iraq's invasion and that it would "naturally, not sell arms to Iraq under such circumstances."
Beijing has been one of Iraq's major arms suppliers, and today's announcement is considered significant because the Chinese rarely comment on their arms sales.
The announcement came shortly after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Solomon had concluded eight hours of talks with Foreign Ministry officials. Solomon, whose visit was arranged on only four hours' notice, is the highest ranking administration official to visit China since national security adviser Brent Scowcroft made two unannounced trips to Beijing last year. Solomon arrived Saturday and left today for Tokyo.
The Soviet Union and France have been Iraq's two leading arms suppliers, but China "is a good strong third," the diplomat said. China has sold tanks, artillery and F-7 fighters to Iraq, although sales have plunged sharply since the end of the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq.
In recent years, U.S. officials have been particularly concerned that China may sell its newly developed M-9 medium-range ballistic missile to the Middle East. The missile has a range of up to 375 miles and can be fitted with a nuclear warhead.
The United States has repeatedly urged China not to sell arms to the Middle East, particularly missiles, arguing that they are destabilizing weapons in a volatile region. U.S. officials have said that so far, they have no evidence that such arms have been delivered to any country in the Middle East.
One Western diplomat said it was important for China, whose image abroad was badly damaged by the Chinese army massacre of democracy demonstrators last year, to be seen as "acting as a friendly, responsible power." He described the talks as "rather constructive, frank and cordial."
He said Solomon also made some progress in talks on the Cambodian conflict. Last month, Washington withdrew support for the Beijing-backed Cambodian guerrilla alliance fighting the Vietnamese-backed government in Phnom Penh.