BEIJING, NOV. 3 -- China is sending its foreign minister to the Persian Gulf next week as part of an attempt to portray itself as a force for peace and to show it is still a major player in world affairs, diplomats and Chinese sources said.

Foreign Minister Qian Qichen plans to visit Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan on Tuesday "for an exchange of views" with Arab leaders, the official New China News Agency reported today.

As one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, China's support has been important to the United States in its efforts to enforce sanctions against Iraq for its Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait. Beijing, by supporting the Security Council resolutions, has been able to use the gulf crisis to break down the political isolation imposed by the West after last year's Chinese army crackdown on demonstrators demanding democracy.

At the same time, China has been careful to distance itself from the other members of the Security Council, most notably the United States, on the use of military measures to enforce sanctions against Iraq. The Chinese have consistently called for a peaceful solution in the gulf and, until recently, had coupled that with opposition to "big-power military involvement," referring to the U.S. and other foreign deployments in the region.

According to one Western diplomat, China has been identified by the Iraqis as "the weak link" among the five permanent members of the Security Council. The four other permanent members are the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain and France.

Chinese officials are reportedly concerned about the prospect of hostilities, but it is not clear what Beijing's position would be if war were to break out in the gulf.

In an indication of Beijing's position, one authoritative Chinese official told some Western diplomats recently that while China would "lament the outbreak of war, China will vote with the majority of the United Nations," according to one Western diplomat.

Another analyst put it more bluntly, saying, "It doesn't matter if {the Chinese} don't dance too pretty, as long as they dance."

This week, as if to remind the West of Beijing's support for the U.N. measures against Iraq, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said China had lost $2 billion in trade, transportation, airline and other receipts by complying with the sanctions. She did not say how the figures were calculated or how much of the losses could be attributed to a decline in arms sales. China had long been a major arms supplier to Iraq.

Those losses do not include Iraqi debts to China for earlier imports of Chinese goods and labor. Beijing has evacuated several thousand of its citizens, mostly construction workers, from Kuwait, but several thousand Chinese laborers are still in Iraq. The spokeswoman declined to give details of the debt, but the total is believed to be about $4 billion, "with a big chunk of that in arms sales," one Western diplomat said.

"China wants to explain that she voted for the resolutions with all the big powers but that it was not easy because it also costs China," another Western diplomat said. One purpose of Qian's trip may be to seek financial help from Saudi Arabia for the costs China has shouldered as a result of the sanctions, another analyst said.

But China's desire to be readmitted to the big-power club appears to be the major motivation behind Qian's trip to the Middle East, one Chinese source said. "If China is able to make any headway {toward a negotiated settlement}, then the other big powers will owe China, and China may be able to get some more rewards," such as the lifting of all Western sanctions against it, he said.

Several diplomats, however, discounted the ability of China to mediate in the gulf. Qian "will say all the right things, but I think it's all part of a move to lessen China's isolation," said one analyst.

China has less to lose than some industrialized countries if war breaks out in the gulf, some analysts said. As a net oil exporter, it is much less dependent on oil from the Middle East than Japan or the United States. The relatively low base of its economy makes China more resilient in the face of an international recession than the higher-performing U.S. economy, for example.

In trade, it will be easier for the Chinese to find other markets for their major exports, such as textiles and footwear, "because even in a recession, people still need to buy shoes and clothes, and they may well go for the cheaper clothes from China," said a Western diplomat.