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China's New Foreign Minister Urges Peaceful Solution to Iraq Dispute - 2003-03-17

China has appointed a new foreign minister, but said its policy on the Iraq crisis will stay the same. Shortly after being named to head China's diplomatic corps on Monday, Li Zhaoxing said "keep your fingers crossed for peace."

He then urged a peaceful solution to the Iraq dispute through the United Nations. Mr. Li said Chinese people support using the framework of the United Nations to get a political solution to the Iraq problem.

It is a restatement of China's long-held position on the Iraq issue. China's views on Iraq are important because Beijing has the right to veto actions by the Security Council.

Mr. Li's appointment was announced at the National People's Congress in Beijing.

Mr. Li won a reputation as a blunt, forceful advocate for his country when he was China's ambassador to the United States.

He has often lectured Washington not to interfere with Taiwan, which China considers to be part of its territory. He condemned U.S. conduct when NATO planes accidentally bombed China's embassy in Belgrade, calling the incident "an atrocity."

News reports say his un-diplomatic directness caused concern in the state department when Washington learned he was appointed the new foreign minister, but his perceived toughness apparently plays well in China.

U.S. businesses represented by the American Chamber of Commerce in China welcomed Mr. Li's expertise on relations with the United States. Mike Furst is the chamber's executive director.

"He certainly knows American concerns well, having spent a number of years in Washington, so this is a positive thing," Mr. Furst said.

Mr. Li replaces Tang Jiaxuan, who has been promoted to vice premier. Mr. Tang has been China's foreign minister since 1998 and oversaw his nation's growing involvement in foreign affairs.