Chinese President Hu Jintao admonished French President Nicolas Sarkozy over the Western bombing campaign in Libya on Wednesday, saying force will not resolve the conflict in the North African country.
The lengthy statement in unusually strong language for a diplomatic meeting was a further display of China's pique at what it sees as an overly broad use by Western countries of U.N. Security Council authorization to protect Libyan civilians rebelling against leader Moammar Gadhafi.
"If the military action brings disaster to innocent civilians, resulting in an even greater humanitarian crisis, then that is contrary to the original intention of the Security Council resolution," Hu told Sarkozy in remarks carried by Chinese state media.
Hu called for an immediate cease-fire, expressed Beijing's concern that Libya may end up divided and said force would complicate a negotiated settlement. China, Hu said, "is not in favor of the use of force in international affairs."
The lecture is a seeming rebuke to Sarkozy, an ardent proponent of the Western-led bombing campaign and current president of the Group of 20 rich and developing nations. While he traveled to China to preside at a meeting of G-20 finance officials in the city of Nanjing on Thursday, a main purpose of his Beijing stop-off was to assuage Hu's concerns about Libya.
China, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council with a veto, usually opposes armed intervention in other nations' affairs. But with its diplomatic entanglements growing along with its economic interests, Beijing abstained from this month's U.N. vote authorizing "all necessary measures" to protect civilians in Libya out of deference to Arab and African countries that sought it.
China's discomfort has risen as the bombing attacks by the U.S., France, Britain and others have expanded beyond Gadhafi's air forces to include ground forces as well. In doing so, the now NATO-led bombings are exceeding what Beijing thought would be enforcement of a "no-fly zone" to keep Gadhafi from attacking anti-government forces by air.
At their meeting in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Hu suggested that proposals for peaceful means, rather than armed force, in Libya had been given short-shrift but were urgently needed.
"The Chinese side supports all political efforts that would help alleviate the situation in Libya and calls on all parties to immediately cease fire and seek a peaceful solution to avoid more civilian casualties and to restore stability to the situation in Libya," Hu said.
China is not alone in its objections. Russia also abstained in the U.N. vote, and Germany, whose foreign minister arrives in Beijing on Thursday, is also a critic.
Yet in keeping its distance from the bombing campaign, China is also furthering its interests, allowing it to avoid getting mired in what could be a protracted crisis with an uncertain outcome, analysts said.
Beijing has issued neither support nor criticism for Gadhafi while it's on record for supporting an end to attacks on civilians. That leaves China, with an increasing thirst for imported oil, in a position to deal with either side that eventually triumphs.
"China is trying to hold the moral high ground, which would allow it to get on board with either side," said Huang Jing, a China politics expert at Singapore National University's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
Beyond that, China's authoritarian government is uncomfortable with the notion that nations may intervene in a conflict to protect civilians _ known in diplomatic parlance as the right to protect. With its human rights record often under criticism and with restive minorities in its regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, Beijing worries that it might be the target of international intervention one day.
To build domestic support for the government's position, state-controlled Chinese media depict the Western powers' attacks on Libya as similar to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. The reports emphasize Libyan government claims of civilian deaths and suggest that any government would be preferable to chaos.
Forcing Gadhafi from power without a negotiated solution "could throw the country into utter chaos," An Huihou, the former Chinese ambassador to Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon and Egypt, wrote in a commentary Wednesday in the official China Daily newspaper.