China opposes U.S. presence in Central Asia
CNN Senior China Analyst
(CNN) -- The Chinese leadership has for the first time stated its opposition to the stationing of American troops in Central Asia.
President Jiang Zemin, on tour in Iran, told former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani that Beijing was opposed to American policies in Central Asia and the Middle East.
"Beijing's policy is against strategies of force and the U.S. military presence in Central Asia and the Middle East region," Iran state radio quoted Jiang as saying.
Jiang also reportedly said that Beijing would work together with developing nations to counter American "hegemonism."
Moreover, Vice-Premier Qian Qichen, who was traveling with Jiang, disputed President George W. Bush's characterization of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the "axis of evil."
Qian said Beijing's relationship with these countries would not be affected by Washington's views.
The vice-premier stressed China's friendship with Iran but denied reports that his country had been selling arms to the Middle East country.
Diplomatic analysts in Beijing said remarks by Jiang and Qian amounted to the strongest criticism that Chinese leaders had made on Washington's war on terrorism and its policy in the Middle East.
They said until recently, the Chinese leadership had acquiesced in the quasi-permanent stationing of American troops in not only Afghanistan but also Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
It is understood, however, that hard-line elements in Beijing, including military officers, have raised vehement objection to an American presence in these countries, which are in China's northwestern backyard.
Western diplomats in Beijing said the Jiang leadership was trying to counter American influence in the region by resuscitating the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
A high-level meeting of leaders of the SCO, which groups China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, is due to be convened in St. Petersburg in June.
The meeting will agree on a charter for the organization as well as the establishment of a permanent secretariat.
Jiang is wrapping up a world tour -- which takes in Germany, Libya, Nigeria, Tunisia, and Iran -- one of whose goals is seen as countering Washington's alleged "anti-China containment policy."
Premier Zhu Rongji is touring Turkey, Egypt, Kenya in an apparent bid to buttress China's relationship with Third World countries.
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