China resists push to punish Zimbabwe

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.”

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.

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.

On her tour of the quake region, Rice 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.”