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China's actions don't reflect its words

An inaugural “Friends of Syria” meeting last week, attended by representatives of more than 70 countries, called for additional economic sanctions against Syria and demanded that the regime there stop all acts of violence.

But China, which boycotted the meeting in Tunisia, has already indicated its opposition to additional sanctions, with its United Nations Ambassador Li Baodong saying that “sanctions, rather than help resolve an issue, often lead to further complications.”

This is not surprising since China had also opposed to the imposition of economic sanctions by the United Nations against other countries, such as Iran and Sudan.

Fu Ying, now vice foreign minister, explained China's position on economic sanctions in a major speech on China's relations with the West in October 2008 when she was ambassador to the United Kingdom. She said: “Economic sanctions and military force are not serious options in China's diplomatic toolkit. China will become strong, but never hegemonic.”

This position, which is at variance from that of Western countries, has been repeatedly stated by Chinese officials.

As a country that had been a target of Western sanctions after the Tiananmen Square military crackdown, it is understandable that China should object to such measures.

Unfortunately, this stated principle does not seem to be reflected consistently in Chinese actions.

Thus, the month after Fu's talk, China canceled the planned December 2008 summit with the European Union because of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's announcement that he would meet with the Dalai Lama.

Immediately afterward, China set out to punish France through economic warfare.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao toured Europe in early 2009 but conspicuously avoided France. The Chinese leader visited Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Spain and Britain. During this trip, agreements worth more than US$2.2 billion were signed.

Premier Wen himself said: “I looked at a map of Europe. My trip goes around France.”

China also sent a buying mission to Europe. A delegation of 200 Chinese entrepreneurs, led by Commerce Minister Chen Deming, visited Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Britain — but not France. That trip resulted in contracts worth US$10.6 billion.

France could not take much more of this and, by April, it capitulated. In a statement it said it “fully recognizes the importance and sensitivity of the Tibet issue and reaffirms its adherence to the one-China policy and the position that Tibet is an integral part of Chinese territory.”

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