Skip to main content
The Web     
Powered by

China's media slams U.S. 'arrogance' on Iraq

By Willy Wo-Lap Lam
CNN Senior China Analyst

China says weapons inspectors should be given continued support
China says weapons inspectors should be given continued support

   Story Tools

More by Willy Wo Lap Lam
• Interactive: Council on Iraq
• Latest: Iraq Tracker
• Explainer: Al Samoud
• Special Report: Showdown Iraq
• Factfile: NPC key agenda
• Profile: Who is Hu Jintao?
• Profile: Jiang Zemin's legacy
• Special report: New leaders

(CNN) -- Suddenly, there is an upsurge of stories and opinion-editorial pieces in the Chinese media slamming America's "unilateralist" approach to the Iraqi crisis.

The China Daily last week ran an editorial blasting Washington's "arrogant and impatient" reactions to the findings of the United Nations weapons inspectors.

And the popular Web site carried a provocative piece entitled "Do China's car owners have to foot the bill for the 'dump Saddam Hussein' [campaign]?"

The article went further than saying oil prices would increase in the wake of war.

It castigated the George W. Bush administration for hijacking the norms of international relations and forcing the rest of the world to subsidize its bid to punish Baghdad.

Fang Ning, a political scientist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) told the Chinese media Bush's motive in launching a possible attack on Iraq was none other than "the further control of the world's oil reserves."

Fang, a noted nationalist, said, "The entire world is tired of watching [America's] hegemonic behavior."

U.S. bashing

Xinhua News Agency quoted Tao Wenzhao, another CASS America expert, as saying that Washington was targeting Baghdad because the U.S. "will not allow any country, any organization or any individual to challenge its authority."

Soon after the Iraqi crisis broke last year, the Jiang Zemin leadership gave instructions to the media to play down reports of the gathering war clouds -- and to refrain from carrying too many U.S.-bashing articles.

The big question behind the recent surge in anti-U.S. opinion is: Will the worsening Iraqi crisis prompt Beijing to give up Deng Xiaoping's time-honored "keep a low profile" diplomacy, and to assume a pro-active, even aggressive, posture that is commensurate with China's growing economic and military clout?

As late as the 16th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress last November, there was a consensus within the Politburo that Beijing should continue Deng's -- and President Jiang's -- U.S. policy, which can be summarized as "seeking cooperation and avoiding trouble."

It is no secret that Chinese leaders have reassured the U.S. that Beijing would abstain from -- and not oppose -- any vote in the U.N. Security Council that authorizes the use of force against Iraq.

Hawkish sentiments

So far, Beijing has hewed to the policy of following the lead of the two other permanent Security Council members that are opposed to American "unilateralism" on Iraq: France and Russia.

For example, official Chinese spokesmen have echoed the views of Paris and Moscow that more time be given the weapons inspectors -- and that Security Council blessings are needed for an attack on Iraq.

However, the recent rash of anti-U.S. rhetoric in the official media probably reflects the rise of hawkish sentiments among not only People's Liberation Army (PLA) generals but also broad sectors of the public.

Indeed, during the U.S. offensive against Afghanistan in late 2001, individual PLA generals had privately faulted the Jiang leadership for not doing enough to prevent the U.S. from extending its tentacles to Afghanistan and neighboring states such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which are at China's northwestern doorsteps.

And analysts in Beijing said the Fourth Generation leadership under new CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao could adopt a tougher line on Washington's Iraqi policy.

Oil security

Analysts say Hu (L) could adopt a tougher line than his predecessor Jiang (R)
Analysts say Hu (L) could adopt a tougher line than his predecessor Jiang (R)

Apart from apparent changes in public opinion, two major factors are at play.

The first is the perception that while Iraq is thousands of miles from China, U.S. actions there will have a direct impact on Chinese national security, including "petroleum security."

As U.S.-based Chinese diplomat Yang Jijian pointed out last week in the Chinese-run Hong Kong daily, Wen Wei Po, Washington would after dumping Saddam Hussein "further control the petroleum resources in the Middle East and Persian Gulf."

Yang said Beijing's petroleum-related investments in Iraq -- as well as the entire supply of Middle Eastern oil to China -- could be jeopardized.

In internal meetings in recent weeks, senior cadres including party chief Hu and premier-in-waiting Wen Jiabao have underscored the imperative of safeguarding China's "petroleum sovereignty" and "petroleum security."

Hu and Wen said Beijing must beef up its ability to handle the adverse spillover from international flashpoints such as those centered on Iraq and North Korea.

Nuclear power

Even more important is the perception that if Washington were able to quickly liquidate the Saddam Hussein regime, it could soon turn to North Korea, China's traditional ally.

It is true that the CCP administration is opposed to Pyongyong developing weapons of mass destruction.

However, it still thinks Beijing and Pyongyang should maintain a "lips and teeth" relationship, and that any attack on North Korea -- even a limited offensive to wipe out its nuclear installations -- would be a challenge to Chinese power and even sovereignty.

This feeling could be behind a somewhat intriguing piece on "China's nuclear deterrent power" ran by Xinhua last week.

The official news agency quoted military experts as saying China possessed a strong ability to repel and counter nuclear attacks.

"The level of China's strategic nuclear weapons is at the forefront of the world," an unnamed PLA expert was quoted as saying.

"We have enough forces to ensure the country's nuclear safety."

Diplomacy reassessed

It is true that in substantial terms, China is not in a position to significantly affect the turn of events in the Middle East.

Recent developments, however, could hasten new party chief Hu's reassessment of Jiang's "America-comes-first" foreign policy.

Chinese sources close to the diplomatic establishment say there is marked disenchantment among cadres and think-tank intellectuals with Jiang's perceived "policy of accommodation" with Washington -- and a growing emphasis on ways and means to counter a U.S.-inspired "anti-China containment policy"

According to nationalistic scholar Cheng Yawen, the best way to uphold Chinese national security is to "de-link with the U.S., hook up with Asia, and join forces with Europe, including Russia."

While Cheng's seems to be a minority opinion, fast-expanding sentiments about U.S. "unilateralism" if not hegemony in the Middle East could lead to a more contentious Sino-U.S. relationship just a few years down the road.

Story Tools
Click Here to try 4 Free Trial Issues of Time! cover
Top Stories
Iran poll to go to run-off
Top Stories
EU 'crisis' after summit failure

On CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNN AvantGo CNNtext Ad info Preferences
   The Web     
Powered by
© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.
 Premium content icon Denotes premium content.