The State Department said Monday U.S. diplomats are seeking clarification from Beijing after a sharply critical commentary on Bush administration foreign policy by China's former Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Qian Quichen.
Officials here normally shrug off criticism from foreign governments, not wanting to be drawn into in a back-and-forth public exchange on policy matters.
But the State Department is making an exception in the case of Mr. Qian's remarks, seeking clarification, and saying they do not square with Chinese policy as expressed to Secretary of State Colin Powell in Beijing only a week ago.
In a strongly worded commentary in the China Daily newspaper Monday, the former Chinese vice premier said the United States had not changed what he called its "Cold War mentality," and assailed what he described as a "Bush doctrine" in international affairs based on threats and the use of force.
Mr. Qian, a former foreign minister with extensive dealings with the Bush administration, said the U.S-led war in Iraq has destroyed a hard-won global anti-terror coalition, and opened a "Pandora's Box" of intermingled ethnic and religious conflicts.
At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli noted that Mr. Qian is no longer a member of the Chinese government. But he said he is an elder statesman and respected figure, and said the United States is seeking clarification to make "crystal clear" that his remarks do not reflect the views of the current leadership in Beijing.
"His comments are certainly not consistent with what we heard and discussed with the Chinese government during the Secretary's recent visit to China," he said. "And we will be discussing the remarks further with the Chinese government for purposes of clarification."
Mr. Powell was in China only a week ago for talks that focused on regional issues including the Chinese-sponsored six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear program and Taiwan. There was no mention, at least in official statements on the talks, of discord over Iraq or anti-terrorism policy.
A diplomat here who spoke to reporters here on terms of anonymity noted the timing of Mr. Qian's remarks on the eve of the U.S. presidential election, and said there is speculation among policy analysts that the commentary might be an attempt to curry favor with the camp of Democratic Party candidate John Kerry.
Mr. Qian made no direct reference to Senator Kerry. But he did make favorable mention of former Clinton administration Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a Kerry adviser, who he said is an advocate of removing the principle of pre-emption from U.S. foreign policy.