China's contingent in the UN deployment in Darfur will be comprised of an engineering unit that will assist the African Union (AU) force already in place, the Foreign Ministry said yesterday.
The detachment will help implement the "Annan peace plan," which provides for a joint UN-AU operation in Darfur, ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a news conference, although no details on numbers or deployment dates were provided.
"China is willing to work with the rest of the international community for peace and stability in Darfur at an early date," Jiang said. She encouraged all parties to refrain from escalating matters but to focus on moving the "Annan plan" forward.
Earlier claims from Washington on Monday had put Beijing's contribution at 300 engineers that would help stem the violence thought to have killed 200,000 since 2003.
"We see this as a positive development, and we appreciate China's contribution in the international effort to stop the violence in Darfur," US State Department press officer Gonzalo Gallegos said on Monday.
Breaking the deadlock, Sudan agreed recently to a "heavy support package" for the AU troops in Darfur that would include some 3,500 military and police personnel being provided by the UN.
Responding to questions on China's arms sales to African countries, Jiang said China consistently maintained a prudent and responsible attitude toward arms exports by only selling weapons to sovereign states rather than to other entities or individuals.
She added that China verifies the intended purpose of the weapons, and requires importing nations not to sell the arms on to third-parties.
China strictly abides by UN resolutions and does not sell weapons to countries under UN arms embargoes, she added, pointing out that China's arms exports to Africa were limited.
Turning to the Yasukuni Shrine issue, Jiang urged Japan to strictly abide by the consensus reached between the two countries on overcoming political barriers in bilateral relations.
Commenting on Japanese Prime Minister Shinto Abe's offering to the shrine, Jiang asked Japan to respect its neighbors' sentiments.
Although he did not pay homage at the shrine personally, Abe sent a masakaki plant for the annual spring festival in late April, Kyodo News Agency reported. This comes as his first direct show of respect at Yasukuni since assuming office last year.
It also fits Abe's strategy of remaining ambiguous toward the shrine that sparked anger across Asia when former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi paid repeated visits there.
Japanese media reported that Abe personally forked out 50,000 yen (US$417) for the plant, considered divine in Shintoism. Abe has refused to confirm or deny the offering, simply stating that "as I've said before, I want to continue to have the feeling of paying respect to and praying for the souls of those who died fighting for their country."
The move was deplored by the South Korean Foreign Ministry as "very regrettable" and as "running counter to establishing a correct perception of history, which serves as the basis of regional peace and stability."
In another development, Jiang said the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is ignorant about and prejudiced toward China.
Expressing very strong dissatisfaction at the USCIRF's report on religious freedom in China, Jiang accused the USCIRF of maintaining a skewed vision of the country and attacking its policy on religion and ethnic minorities.
A USCIRF report issued last week criticized the way some developing countries, including China, handle religious affairs. Jiang reprimanded the USCIRF of using religion as a pretext to delve into other nations' internal affairs.
"It is obvious that the Chinese government protects the freedom of religious belief of its citizens according to the law, and Chinese citizens enjoy full religious freedom protected by law," she said.
Jiang further used this platform to criticize some organizations that hide behind petty excuses to boycott the upcoming Beijing Olympics. The Chinese government and its people have been building up toward the Olympics for years, and any moves aimed at belittling these preparations are contrary to the Olympic spirit.
Jiang also announced that Premier Wen Jiabao would address the annual board meeting of the African Development Bank (ADB) in Shanghai next week.
It will be the first time the annual board meeting of the ADB, to run on May 16 and 17, has been held in Asia and the second time outside Africa. In 2001, Spain hosted the annual event.
On the heels of the Beijing Summit of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum held in November 2006, this is the second successive major Africa-related event hosted by China.
Themed "African and Asia: Partners in Development," the meeting will address the areas of infrastructure development in Africa, regional integrity and poverty relief.
Chaired by the People's Bank of China President, Zhou Xiaochuan, the meeting will gather around 2,000 people, including finance ministers and governors of the central banks of member states, representatives of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other regional development finance organizations and non-governmental organizations.
On the meeting's sidelines will be held a series of business seminars, each seeking to outline further potential areas of cooperation between China and Africa.
Founded in 1964, the ADB has 77 members from Africa, America, Europe and Asia with China joining in 1985.
Jiang also announced that: Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet would pay his first state visit to China from May 15 to 18 after taking office in June 2006; Rwandan President Paul Kagame will visit from May 13 to 18; and Foreign Minister of Cote d'Ivoire Youssouf Bakayoko from May 9 to 14.
(China Daily, Xinhua News Agency May 9, 2007)