China said on Tuesday that it opposed expanded sanctions against Sudan after reports the United States will unveil tough new restrictions on Sudan and push for another UN resolution on the bloodshed in Darfur.
China's representative on African affairs, Liu Guijin, who has been acting as an envoy on Darfur, said "pressure and sanctions" did not help resolve problems.
"Expanding sanctions can only make the problem more difficult to resolve," Liu told a news conference in Beijing. Asked whether China would veto any new UN Security Council resolution targeting Sudan, he said: "It's still too early to speak of."
Liu's comments reflected the pressure China faces as it seeks to balance ties with Sudan and calls from Washington and other Western capitals for tougher action on Darfur.
Fighting by government-linked militia and rebel groups in that region of western Sudan has killed more than 200,000 people and driven about 2 million from their homes, the United Nations has estimated. Sudan says only about 9,000 have died.
Beijing said earlier this month it would send 275 military engineers for a UN force to bolster African Union peacekeepers already in Darfur, as an initial step of the "Annan" peace plan, which Sudan has accepted in principle but delayed implementing.
But China, a major investor in Sudan's oil, has blocked sending UN peacekeepers to Darfur without Khartoum's consent, bringing accusations from human rights groups that it is abetting widespread bloodshed, even genocide. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China can veto resolutions.
President George W Bush will announce the sanctions in a speech on Tuesday, imposing unilateral action against 31 companies and four individuals, administration officials said.
At the UN, the United States and Britain are also considering drafting a resolution that would impose an arms embargo on all of Sudan, not just Darfur, and increase the number of individuals targeted by sanctions.
Liu said that he saw signs of progress in Darfur, including talks between Khartoum and African Union and UN representatives, and warned that expanded sanctions could backfire.
"In these circumstances, why can't the international community give more time for peaceful settlement of Sudan's Darfur problem?," he said.
Peacekeepers could not quell conflict unless they were accompanied by political negotiations within Darfur, he added.
"Even if you send many troops to a country, if the country is not pursuing political reconciliation, the problem cannot be resolved," he said.
China was encouraging Sudan to be "more flexible" about implementing the peace plan, and also wanted fragmented opposition forces in Darfur to join talks and reach unified negotiating positions, he added.