China says may send envoy to discuss Syria crisis

BEIJING Tue Feb 7, 2012 4:48am EST

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China is considering sending an envoy to the Middle East to discuss the crisis in Syria, the foreign ministry said Tuesday, as it sought to assuage popular anger at its vetoing of an Arab League-backed U.N. resolution on the country.

China, along with Russia, blocked a draft U.N. resolution that backed an Arab plan urging President Bashar al-Assad to quit. Russia has dispatched its Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, to Damascus -- he was due to meet Assad Tuesday.

Heavy bombardment of the Syrian city of Homs resumed on Tuesday after at least 95 civilians were killed Monday in an offensive to put down a popular revolt against Assad's rule, activists and residents said.

The head of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, said Russia and China had lost diplomatic credit in the Arab world by vetoing the resolution.

But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said his country was committed to being a friend to the Arab world and may send its own envoy there.

"We hope that Russia's mediation can be successful. China has all along paid close attention to the development of the Syria situation," Liu told a daily news briefing.

"We will consider sending somebody in the near future to the region, to West Asia and North Africa, to play a proactive and constructive role in pushing for a political resolution of the Syria issue," he added, without giving details.

"The Chinese people are friends of both the Syrian and the Arab peoples. We have always worked together and coordinated on all sorts of problems," Liu said.

China, he said, would develop relations with the Arab world "in accordance with Chinese principles."

"We believe that Arab countries can go down the path they have chosen for themselves and can have peace, stability and development with the help of the international community."

Monday, Liu said Western powers that initiated the U.N. Security Council vote on their resolution had not gone far enough in seeking compromise.

NO "RUBBER STAMP"

State media has also weighed into the debate.

A top newspaper said that the world must get used to China speaking hard truths about disputes such as Syria, saying its veto of the U.N. resolution showed China would be no "rubber stamp."

The overseas edition of the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, said in a front-page commentary that China was right to uphold what it believed was the correct course.

"The Syrian situation is worsening, and China and Russia's decision to veto created a 'window of opportunity' for a soft landing to the problem, which should not be wasted," wrote Ruan Zongze, identified as a foreign affairs expert.

Ruan said China should tough out the international outcry.

"Today, China, because of its rapidly rising strength, sits at the main table on the global stage, and needs to get used to newly being in the limelight. The international community also needs to adjust to China's new role," Ruan said.

"Although this means that China will face even more difficult choices when it comes to handling complex international affairs, China must dare to speak its mind, and proactively create a just, rational global political process."

Ruan said the resolution had been aimed at "regime change," which ran contrary to the U.N.'s charter, hence China could not support it.

China's explanations and profferings of friendship are unlikely to mollify critics in the West and the Middle East.

Dozens of Syrian and Libyan protesters Monday threw rocks, eggs and tomatoes at the Chinese embassy in Tripoli, broke windows and sprayed graffiti on walls.

Liu said China was "deeply concerned" by the attack and had "lodged representations" with the Libyan government, which had since apologized and promised to step up security.

The conflicting Chinese and Western positions have exposed a wider rift about how China should use its growing influence and whether it should abandon its longstanding, albeit unevenly applied, principle of non-interference in other countries' domestic conflicts.

Siding with Russia over Syria could also add to China's irritants with the United States. Vice President Xi Jinping is due to visit there next week, burnishing his credentials as the Communist Party's likely next top leader.

(Editing by Ron Popeski)

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