BEIJING – A U.S.-led push to punish Zimbabwe ran into resistance Sunday from China, which can veto U.N. penalties sought against its African ally over President Robert Mugabe's claim to re-election.
After talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that also covered Taiwan, Tibet and North Korea, China's foreign minister said Beijing favors negotiations between Mugabe, who was sworn in for a new term Sunday, and the opposition.
"The most pressing path is to stabilize the situation in Zimbabwe," Yang Jiechi told reporters at a news conference with Rice. "We hope the parties concerned can engage in serious dialogue to find a proper solution."
"China hopes the international community, African countries in particular, can a play a more constructive role in this regard," he said. "China as a responsible country will also play a constructive role in this process."
Yang stuck to a position that China, one of Zimbabwe's chief friends and trading partners, long has held. But his comments came just after Rice had spent a significant amount of time making the case for the Bush administration's new push to pressure Mugabe, officials said.
Not much later, in Zimbabwe's capital, Mugabe was sworn in for a sixth term. Hours before, electoral officials said he had won a discredited runoff. Leaders in Africa and elsewhere had condemned Friday's runoff, in which Mugabe was the sole candidate. Opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai had withdrawn because of the violence. Human rights groups have said opposition supporters were the targets of brutal state-sponsored violence during the campaign, leaving more than 80 dead and forcing some 200,000 to flee their homes.
Before traveling to Beijing, Rice was in China's earthquake-devastated southwest, visiting some of the tens of thousands of people left displaced by last month's temblor. Rice praised China's disaster recovery effort, saying it contrasted with Myanmar's reluctance to allow in foreign aid after a devastating cyclone. She was the highest-ranking American to inspect the damage in the mountainous Sichuan province where almost 70,000 people have died, including thousands of schoolchildren killed when their classrooms crumbled.
President Bush said Saturday the U.S. was working on ways to further punish Mugabe and his allies. That could mean steps against his government as well as additional restrictions on the travel and financial activities of Mugabe supporters. The U.S. has financial and travel penalties in place against more than 170 citizens and entities with ties to Mugabe, the White House says.
Bush also wants the U.N. Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Zimbabwe as well as travel bans on Zimbabwe government officials. Mugabe leads an "illegitimate government" that retained power only through a fraudulent election, Bush said after the runoff. "The Mugabe regime held a sham election that ignored the will of the people of Zimbabwe."
Rice has said the U.S. plans to introduce a resolution in the council this coming week. The United States holds the council's presidency until July 1, but appears to face an uphill battle in getting several important members to agree to any penalties.
In addition to China, both Russia, also a permanent veto-wielding council member, and elected member South Africa have opposed action on Zimbabwe, saying the situation is an internal matter.
Although Yang indicated that Beijing's stance had not changed, Rice said the U.S. would pursue the matter. She said that conditions in Zimbabwe had "deteriorated to a grave level" and that "the sham election there is likely to bring more violence."
"We believe that it's time for the international community to act more strongly," Rice said. "Frankly, it makes sense to deny the government of Zimbabwe the means to use violence against its own people."
At present, there is no international arms embargo against Zimbabwe. China is one of its main suppliers of weapons and ammunition, although Yang said a recent shipment had been returned "at the request of the receiving party."
That shipment made headlines this spring when some African countries refused to allow the freighter to dock at their ports, partly at the urging of the United States and others.
While differing on Zimbabwe, Rice and Yang both expressed hope for the success of the effort get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.
On Thursday, North Korea submitted a long-delayed accounting of its atomic activities. Bush announced that the U.S. intended to ease some penalties against the communist country and North Korea demolished the cooling tower at its Yongbyon reactor complex.
Rice expressed hope that China, which is leading the six-nations disarmament talks, and the other participants would move quickly to complete the process. Yang agreed.
On other matters, Rice said:
-- The U.S. is concerned about the situation in Tibet after recent unrest against Chinese rule and supports continued talks between Beijing and representatives of the Dalai Lama. Yang said his government was open to such talks; shortly after he and Rice met, Chinese authorities said a new round would be held in July.
-- The U.S. hoped to carry on its recently resumed human rights dialogue with China; Yang said China was willing to do so.
On her tour of the quake region, she stopped in Dujiangyan, a badly hit city of 250,000 where officials said 3,000 people died and 90 percent of the buildings are now uninhabitable.
"My goodness," she said as she surveyed a pile of rubble—once a gym—before heading to a community of thousands of temporary homes and a water purification facility that is run by an American charity.
"I can see that the Chinese government and officials have been attentive," Rice told reporters. "I can see how much effort has gone into the recovery. But with a disaster of this magnitude, no one can do it alone."
"We are very glad that the Chinese people have reached out for help," she added.
At the camp of temporary homes, she spoke to parents of a young boy. "I wish you the very best," she said. "I'm sorry you lost so much but I know you are going to recover. You have a great spirit."