A new foreign minister took office today in China, saying his country still hoped that war would not erupt between the United States and Iraq.
Minutes after being installed in his new post, Li Zhaoxing, a one-time ambassador to Washington who has a reputation for being tough on the United States, told reporters to "keep your fingers crossed for peace."
China, one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council all of whom have veto power, has consistently expressed its opposition to a U.S.-led war but had not said whether it would veto a now-abandoned U.N. resolution on the issue.
This evening, Li told the Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, that "China is willing to make the utmost effort to avoid war," the official New China News Agency reported.
China's rubber-stamp legislature, the National People's Congress, confirmed Li's appointment today, along with those of a number of deputy prime ministers, state councilors, ministers and a central banker. Those appointments put the final touches on what has been the smoothest transfer of power in Communist China's 53-year history. President Hu Jintao, Vice President Zeng Qinghong, legislative chief Wu Bangguo and military chief Jiang Zemin, who were appointed Saturday, and Premier Wen Jiabao, who was appointed Sunday, will run China for the next five years.
China continued its tradition of having a uniformed soldier run the Defense Ministry with the appointment of Gen. Cao Gangchuan. Cao has managed China's multibillion-dollar weapons acquisition program, one of the world's biggest, and is known to be a strong backer of China's space program. Earlier in the legislative session, the government announced that defense spending would increase 9.6 percent this year, the smallest increase in 14 years. China says it spends around $22 billion a year on defense, but experts say the real figure is closer to $80 billion.
The new government bore the hallmarks of the continuing influence of Jiang, the outgoing president. He retained a major position, staying on as chairman of the Central Military Commission. Zeng, the new vice president, was his right-hand man. Jiang's allies also grabbed a top position in the cabinet, a vice premiership, a state councilor's position and the Agriculture Ministry. One of Jiang's closest collaborators, Jia Qinglin, the former party chief in Beijing, was appointed to head the Chinese People's Consultative Conference, an advisory body to the Communist Party.
However, Jiang's men generally seemed to have been locked out of the new economic team led by Zhou Xiaochuan, the central bank chief; Zeng Peiyan, another vice premier; Lu Fuyuan, who will head the first Commerce Ministry; and Wu Yi, the only woman on the ruling Politburo, who is also a vice premier. There, the sway of outgoing premier Zhu Rongji remained strong. His influence was also felt in the choice of his successor, Wen, a soft-spoken geologist whose wife is in the gem trade.
While the National People's Congress has the right to turn down the party's candidates, or nominate its own, it has never used this right.