China Throws a Balkan Curveball

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Beijing marches to the sound of its own drummer, and sometimes the beat is incomprehensible even to its allies. With the Balkans perched on a knife's edge after the Kosovo peace talks ended inconclusively, China Thursday vetoed a routine U.N. Security Council vote to keep peacekeeping troops in Macedonia. Beijing is displeased that the small Balkan republic, which borders Kosovo, extended formal recognition to Taiwan after being promised more than $1 billion in aid and investment.

"Beijing wants to send Macedonia a message," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "But if the U.N. force has to pull out, NATO will take over its duties and the Russians and Chinese will lose whatever influence they have over events in the region." So expect some frenzied whispered remonstrations in the U.N. corridors as China's sometime allies Russia and France try to talk Beijing down. Their veto may cost them more than any injury they suffer from mighty Macedonia's recognition of Taiwan.