China escalates opposition to Libya airstrikes, joins Russia & India in calling for cease-fire
ANDREW JACOBS, The New York Times, March 22, 2011
BEIJING — China escalated its opposition to American-led airstrikes on Libya on Tuesday, joining Russia and India in calls for an immediate cease-fire and suggesting that coalition forces were imperiling civilians by exceeding the United Nations-mandated no-fly zone.
The rising criticism among the so-called BRIC group — Brazil, Russia, India and China — came amid allegations by the Libyan government that allied bombings had killed or wounded scores of civilians, a claim rejected by American military officials.
On Monday, hours after the departure of President Obama, Brazil issued a statement condemning the attacks and urging “the start of dialogue.”
China’s response to the campaign has been the most forceful, warning that the assault could bring about a “humanitarian disaster.” In a news briefing Tuesday, Jiang Yu, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, called for an end to hostilities. “We’ve seen reports that the use of armed force is causing civilian casualties, and we oppose the wanton use of armed force leading to more civilian casualties,” she said.
China was one of five countries to abstain from the United Nations resolution that authorized the allied airstrikes against the forces of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, which have been seeking to crush a rebellion against his four-decade rule. Russia, Brazil, India and Germany also abstained, while South Africa joined nine other Security Council members in supporting the resolution approved last week.
In its decision to abstain rather than block the resolution through its veto power, China said it was heeding the wishes of the Arab League and the African Union.
During a meeting with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Tuesday, Russia’s defense minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, added his voice to those calling for a cease-fire, saying it was the best way to avoid civilian casualties, according to The Associated Press. On Monday, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin was unsparing in his criticism, comparing the allied campaign against Libya to the invasion of Iraq and likening it to a “medieval call for a crusade.” In a rare expression of dissent between the country’s two leaders, President Dmitri A. Medvedev later criticized the remarks as unacceptable.
On Tuesday, Indian officials joined those calling for a cease-fire. Pranab Mukherjee, the country’s finance minister and a leader of the lower house of Parliament, told lawmakers that the coalition had no right to oust the ruler of a sovereign nation.
The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Tuesday that Turkey supported providing humanitarian aid to Libya but that it would “never be the party that points weapons at the Libyan people.” Turkey, the only Muslim member of NATO, had opposed an alliance plan for the no-fly zone.
The Chinese news media, meanwhile, have been vociferous in expressing opposition to the military campaign against the Libyan government, with articles and commentaries depicting the assault as an attempt to grab that country’s oil resources and expand American influence in the region.
A front-page article in People’s Daily on Tuesday said the United Nations resolution characterizing the Libyan army’s attack on civilians as a possible “crime against humanity” was simply cover for what it called the West’s hegemonic intentions.
“Historical experience has shown that humanitarian intervention is only an excuse for military intervention into other countries’ domestic affairs,” wrote the author, Tang Zhichao, a scholar at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations. “They claim to be motivated by morality but in fact they are driven by narrow political and economic interests.”
An editorial in Global Times, owned by People’s Daily, went further, saying that Western nations should be penalized for “abusing” the Security Council resolution that paved the way for the attack. “Just let them agonize there in Libya,” the paper said, referring to the United States and its partners. “No matter what happens to Qaddafi, a chaotic Libya will become an unshakable burden for the West forever.”