U.S. faces China hard sell on Iraq
HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- U.S. President George W. Bush's ultimatum to the United Nations to act on Iraq appears to have done little to convince China, a key U.N. Security Council member, to support any drastic action against Saddam Hussein.
China has urged the United States to seek a U.N.-backed solution to the Iraqi situation and like other global powers was watching Bush's speech on Thursday with interest.
Bush's comments did not contain any hard evidence or smoking gun against Iraq, as Chinese policy makers had hoped to see, implying that the White House still faces a hard sell to convince Beijing of the need for an anti-Iraqi offensive. (Bush speech)
However, Bush did make the point that Saddam had defied several U.N. resolutions over the past decade. Though the argument is not new, it is an issue that may resonate among the Chinese leadership.
Beijing has also been unusually restrained in its choice of diplomatic language, prompting analysts to suggest China could provide some support to the United States in exchange for possible sizeable concessions at a later date. (China eyes gains on Iraq)
China's say is critical because as a permanent member of the Security Council, it wields veto power.
Thus, it is very important for the United States to at least secure acquiescence, if not endorsement, from China should Washington prefer to take military action to topple Saddam's regime.
Observers say that if a U.N. vote was taken now regarding any military option, China would likely take the middle ground and instead of wielding veto power, probably abstain from voting.
Such a move may still be good enough for Bush to initiate military action.
The role of China, though, has broader implications, offering Beijing a chance to play its cards.
Just as Beijing used 9/11 and the anti-terror war to get closer to the United States, the Iraq crisis has also offered an opportunity not only show how important or powerful China is in global politics, but also to demonstrate to the U.S. that it needs China as much as China needs it.
Prior to the events of September 11, China was viewed among a number of American officials and strategists as potential enemy No.1 -- creating scary scenarios of an inevitable showdown between the world's only superpower and its most populous would-be superpower.
Bin Laden's ugly exploits, however, had the effect of diverting Bush's attention from what he had earlier deemed America's "strategic competitor."
After September 11, Washington's priority has been fighting terrorism, not containing China.
Partly thanks to Beijing's acquiescence in Washington's Afghanistan campaign, China is perceived in many American quarters as a worthy partner in the global fight against terrorism.
Any American-Iraqi conflict is set to present China with a windfall of diplomatic and other opportunities.
And that may help one of Beijing's biggest concerns -- Taiwan.
Analysts say Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who will meet with Bush next month at his Texan ranch, may reveal his hand, offering support, or at least assent, for action against Iraq in exchange for the U.S. to show restraint in the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan has been a prickly issue for Beijing, and recent actions from Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian have done little to defuse the situation.
China eyes Taiwan as a renegade province and has vowed to reunite with the island as well as use force to halt any moves towards independence by Taipei.
The United States, though it follows the "one-China" policy and does not support Taiwan's independence, has vowed to defend Taiwan and assists in maintaining a military balance across the Taiwan Strait.
-- CNN Beijing Bureau Chief Jaime FlorCruz and CNN Senior China Analyst Willy Wo-Lap Lam contributed to this report.
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