- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

China has assured U.S. officials during a recent series of high-level meetings that it will stay out of political and military affairs in Latin America, Africa and other resource-rich regions with significant Chinese investments.

The talks, which included a session in Beijing last month, are focused on parts of the world such as Sudan and Venezuela, where China has expanded its influence by investing billions of dollars in oil production, aid and infrastructure development.

“They tell us that they are not interested in political or military adventures,” Thomas A. Shannon Jr., assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, told The Washington Times.

Mr. Shannon visited China last month as part of a “strategic dialogue” between the two countries led by Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick.

“Given the importance of the U.S. market to China, they don’t want to create a political confrontation in the region that could lead to restrictions on their access to the market of the United States,” Mr. Shannon said.

With regard to Venezuela, for example, which is led by anti-U.S. President Hugo Chavez, China said it has told the United States that its “principal interest” is energy.

“This is an important relationship for them and one they want to develop, but at the same time they don’t want to be drawn into Venezuela’s fight with the United States,” Mr. Shannon said. “They have a way to make it clear to Venezuela that they don’t want it playing the China card.”

Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, visited China in November with similar concerns.

“Certainly, when you look at where China has invested its resources in Africa, it’s primarily in oil-producing countries, and the other place is in South Africa,” she told reporters recently.

She urged China to also invest in sectors other than oil, which would “contribute to Africa’s growth and development,” rather than just helping China’s economic growth.

Liu Jianchao, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said last month that, in its economic activities in Latin America and Africa, Beijing pursues “a road of peaceful development politically.”

“We will not be a threat to anyone,” he said.

A Chinese diplomat in Washington said his government’s developing of relationships in Latin America and Africa “bears no marks of ideology and is not directed to any third party.”

Beijing also has said its principle of not getting involved in politics with the countries in which it invests prevents it from supporting drives by the West to punish Sudan for the crisis in its Darfur region or Iran for its nuclear program.

Mr. Shannon said there is a way to “test” China’s assurances that it will not back governments such as Mr. Chavez’s that have poor relations with Washington.

“If they are interested in long-term, viable suppliers of food, raw materials and energy, then they are interested in political stability and economic success, and there are things they can do to help create political stability and economic success,” he said.

China can work through multilateral institutions such as the Organization of American States, where it is an observer, Mr. Shannon said.

“We can identify certain markers to measure the degree to which what they say is actually what they mean,” he said.

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