BEIJING -- Yesterday's meeting between the Chinese and Soviet foreign ministers in western China provided another indication that China is not likely to veto a United Nations resolution on the use of force to resolve the gulf crisis, Western diplomats said here last night.
Few details were available here about the suddenly called, 90-minute private meeting between Foreign Minister Qian Qichen and Eduard A. Shevardnadze, his Soviet counterpart, in the city of Urumqi near the Soviet border.
China's news service quoted Mr. Qian as saying, "Both sides are firmly opposed to Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait and demand that Iraq withdraw from Kuwait as soon as possible."
Western diplomats noted that Mr. Qian's stress on a quick Iraqi withdrawal -- as opposed to previous statements underscoring the need for a peaceful resolution -- indicated that China may now have accepted the necessity for a use-of-force resolution.
"China's talk of the need for restraint has diminished with the U.S. showing that it's not in a hurry to run off half-cocked right now and with [Iraqi leader] Saddam [Hussein] continuing to be intransigent," a Western diplomat said.
Added another diplomat: "China has been using the gulf crisis all along to reinforce its tarnished image in the world. It would be quite inconsistent now to veto" a use-of-force resolution.
As permanent members of the Security Council, both China and the Soviet Union can veto any resolutions.
Since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in early August, both countries have stood with Western nations in approving all Security Council resolutions against Iraq.
While the Soviet Union is widely expected to not veto -- and possibly to endorse -- a use-of-force resolution, China's position has been less clear.
At a weekly Foreign Ministry briefing Thursday, a spokesman continued to dodge questions about it by adhering strictly to China's public stance to date.
"As long as there is still a gleam of hope for a peaceful settlement," he said, "unremitting efforts should be continued for this."
Foreign Ministry spokesmen previously have denied reports that Mr. Qian told both Mr. Hussein and Secretary of State James A. Baker III that China would not veto a resolution authorizing force.
No Western reporters were allowed to cover yesterday's meeting, the second held in China between the two countries since the gulf crisis began. The first meeting was held Sept. 1.