- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Li Zhaoxing, China's new foreign minister and a one-time outspoken ambassador to the United States, expressed hope yesterday for avoiding war in Iraq but stopped far short of criticizing the United States for its push to oust President Saddam Hussein from power.
"Keep your fingers crossed for peace," he told reporters in Beijing at a press conference after his formal election to the post by the National People's Congress, China's top deliberative body, which met in the Chinese capital last week to anoint a new generation of leaders.
The new foreign minister's low-key approach reflects a fundamental decision by China not to confront the United States, say top China watchers here and abroad. It is a strategy adopted shortly after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Before that, there were a series of incidents in which Beijing and Washington stood eyeball to eyeball and Mr. Li, as ambassador to the United States and before that envoy to the United Nations, was a no-holds-barred participant in most of those showdowns.
Although China has sided with France and Russia in opposing the unilateral use of force in Iraq, it has remained silent throughout the long U.N. wrangle over whether to support the United States' determination to confront Saddam with force.
Assuming his post amid a looming U.S.-led war, Mr. Li, 62, said, "We must work together. Urge peace and avoid war."
He also brushed off a question about whether differences with Washington about Iraq and North Korea would affect Sino-U.S. ties.
In his assignments during the past decade, Mr. Li was a prime critic of the United States in the diplomatic community. It was a period marked by such strains as the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999 during the Kosovo war and the detention two years later of the crew of a U.S. surveillance plane that crash-landed on Hainan island after being intercepted by Chinese aircraft.
Mr. Li's selection as foreign minister was part of a wholesale transformation at the apex of Chinese communist rule.
Although significant as the first transfer of power by peaceful means rather than political struggle in the regime's 50-year history, the choices of government leaders were not surprising.
As expected, Hu Jintao was named state president to replace outgoing Jiang Zemin, who will retain huge influence over both party and government as chief of the armed forces' Central Military Commission.
The post of prime minister, until now held by Zhu Rongji, went to Wen Jiabao, whose team includes technocrats, engineers and scientists.
Yesterday, China also installed a Cabinet to carry out the government's campaign to advance economic reform and boost living standards for the poor.
Gen. Cao Gangchuan was named defense minister, extending China's tradition of having a soldier as the top defense official. The general led an ambitious program under which China hopes to launch its first manned space mission later this year.
Tang Jiaxuan, Mr. Li's predecessor as foreign minister, moves up to state councilor and is likely to assume the duties of the powerful Qian Qichen, long a key player in China's relations with the world.
This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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