INTERNATIONAL

China throws its weight behind U.N.

SINGAPORE Jan. 28 . As the only full-fledged Asian state with veto powers in the U.N. Security Council, China today upheld the global organisation's locus on the escalating Iraq crisis and held the scales even as between Washington and Baghdad.

China urged Baghdad to enhance its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which was still seized of the substantive modalities of inspecting the suspected nuclear-weaponisation sites in Iraq.

In the same diplomatic refrain, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Zhang Qiyue, maintained that the entire U.N. Security Council should continue to support the unfinished work of the nuclear inspectors in Iraq. In carefully crafted comments designed to keep the U.S. guessing about China's strategic thinking on the Iraqi nuclear issue, Ms. Zhang underlined that there was no room for hasty conclusions at this point about ways to domesticate Iraq as regards its suspected programmes of amassing weapons of mass destruction.

At the same time, Beijing indicated how strong its diplomatic comfort level with Washington was at this time by pointing out that the U.S. Vice-President, Dick Cheney, a known hawk on the Iraq issue, would visit China later this year. Mr. Cheney was invited by Hu Jintao, whom the international community had by now come to see as China's president-in-waiting.

Japan, a key U.S. ally in the Far East, took a stand that was nearer America. Tokyo, however, took care to emphasise the need for a peaceful resolution. Placing the onus for this squarely on Baghdad, the Japanese authorities strongly urged it to address all unresolved nuclear issues in a proactive fashion and comply with all relevant Security Council resolutions so that Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction could be suitably disposed of.

Elsewhere in the Asia Pacific region, the Indonesian Vice-President, Hamzah Haz, said his country was opposed to an attack against Iraq. The Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, said the U.S. had already "gone overboard'' in the "war on terrorism''.

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