updated 11/1/2004 12:11:19 AM ET 2004-11-01T05:11:19

On the eve of the U.S. presidential election, China accused President Bush of trying to “rule over the whole world,” saying the invasion of Iraq destroyed the global anti-terrorism coalition and worsened religious and ethnic conflicts.

The strikingly pointed criticism from a government that Washington calls a key anti-terrorism ally was a departure from China’s past refusal to comment on the U.S. presidential candidates.

It came in a commentary in a state newspaper by Vice Premier Qian Qichen, who criticized what he called the “Bush Doctrine” as a policy of pre-emptive military attack and a Cold War relic.

“It advocates the United States should rule over the whole world with overwhelming force,” said the lengthy commentary in the China Daily, an English-language newspaper aimed at foreign readers.

China has supported the U.S.-led war on terror, but is wary of Bush’s intentions. Beijing worries about Washington’s heightened presence in Central and South Asia, concerned that it threatens Chinese ambitions to be the region’s dominant military power.

It wasn’t clear what prompted Monday’s commentary, but U.S.-Chinese relations have been strained by disputes over trade and Washington’s refusal to send home Chinese Muslim detainees from the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

'Pandora's box'
Qian, who was China’s foreign minister for more than a decade in the late 1980s and early ’90s, criticized Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in March 2003, saying “the world’s situation in response to the war is in effect a negative answer.”

“Washington opened a Pandora’s box, intensifying intermingled conflicts, such as ethnic and religious ones,” Qian wrote.

“The Iraq war was an optional one, not a necessary one, and the pre-emptive principle should be removed from the dictionary of the U.S. national security,” he wrote. “The Iraq war has also destroyed the hard-won global anti-terror coalition.”

Chinese officials have refused for weeks to comment on issues in the U.S. presidential campaign or on the positions of Bush and his main challenger, Democratic Sen. John Kerry.

The U.S. government announced last week that it won’t send home members of China’s Muslim Uighur minority — who are being released from detention as possible terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay — and is instead trying to give them refuge in another country.

Beijing had appealed for the return of the Uighurs to face possible prosecution and urged Washington on Saturday to handle them in a way that wouldn’t harm anti-terrorism cooperation.

Human rights groups have said the Chinese detainees could face torture or execution if sent home.

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