Beijing, Aug. 28 (Reuters): China and India, the world’s two most populous countries, stressed their opposition to the use of force against Iraq without mentioning the US by name.
The reaction today from the two Asian giants, which together account for more than a third of humanity, was the strongest in Asia which has broadly backed the US-led war on terror.
Australia, however, has expressed support for a US strike on Iraq but said a diplomatic solution would be preferable.
US officials have stressed that no decision has been taken to attack Iraq but senior administration figures have not been shy about putting their case for a change of regime in Baghdad.
US Vice-President Dick Cheney this week laid out the case for pre-emptive action, saying Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was stalling for time to develop weapons of mass destruction and that the Iraqi leader would have nuclear weapons “fairly soon”.
The risks of inaction were “far greater than the risk of action”, Cheney said.
But China said using force against Iraq would increase instability. “Using force or threats of force is unhelpful in solving the Iraq issue and will increase regional instability and tensions,” China’s official Xinhua news agency quoted foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan as saying in a meeting with his Iraqi counterpart Naji Sabri in Beijing.
“The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Iraq should also be respected.”
China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, said it wanted Baghdad to implement UN resolutions calling for weapons inspections and that it would play a “positive role” in trying to ease tensions.
US President George W. Bush has named Iraq, Iran and North Korea as forming an “axis of evil” promoting terrorism. Iraq has refused to allow weapons inspectors into the country since a US-British bombing campaign in December 1998.
Diplomats said China’s position on Iraq was fuelled by a desire to see countries act within an international framework rather than unilaterally.
Beijing, which says it has an even-handed policy in West Asia, was also keen to ensure US action did not open the door to potential interference in its own back yard, one diplomat said.
India, a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement, said it also strongly opposed military action against Iraq.
Ties between India and the US have warmed in recent years, but New Delhi said it could not accept the use of force against any nation.
“We are very clear that there should be no armed action against any country, more particularly with the avowed purpose of changing a regime,” external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha told reporters this week. A foreign ministry official said today there was no change in India’s stand on Iraq.
“There is a consistency in our policy, and it is not going to change in the next few days or weeks,” he said.
There was no immediate reaction from Pakistan, a key US ally since the September 11 attacks on Washington and New York, or from mostly Muslim Malaysia.