China lays out stance on Syria, rejects "interference"

BEIJING Sun Mar 4, 2012 2:49am EST

BEIJING (Reuters) - China warned other powers on Sunday not to use humanitarian aid for Syria to "interfere" in the strife-torn Middle Eastern country, while urging unity in the U.N. Security Council after a split with Western powers over the crisis.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry laid out its stance on Syria as the Security Council contemplates a new resolution, after two previous ones were stymied by Chinese and Russian vetoes.

Even China, which has talked up room for compromise between Syrian government and opposition forces, sounded bleak about the unstinting violence.

"It is deeply worrying that the situation in Syria remains grave. Violent clashes are continuing, political dialogue still cannot start, and the prospects of a peaceful settlement to the crisis are still dim," said the statement from an unnamed "leading official" in China's Foreign Ministry.

The unusually long five-point statement in English appeared to be Beijing's effort to lay down its position for any fresh international action authorized by the U.N. Security Council.

Western powers have proposed a United Nations resolution authorizing humanitarian aid. And the newly appointed U.N.-Arab League envoy on the Syria crisis, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, is seeking to staunch the violence.

Syrian forces bombarded parts of the shattered city of Homs Saturday and for a second day blocked Red Cross aid meant for civilians stranded for weeks without food and fuel in the former rebel stronghold, activists and aid workers said.

"The Syrian government and all parties concerned should immediately, fully and unconditionally cease all acts of violence, particularly violence against innocent civilians," said the statement.

"As a permanent member of the Security Council, China is ready to earnestly fulfill its responsibilities, engage in equal-footed, patient and full consultation with other parties on the political solution to the Syrian crisis in an effort to safeguard the unity of the Security Council."

Until now, Beijing has mostly avoided singling out the Syrian government when calling for an end to the bloodshed.

The United Nations says security forces have killed more than 7,500 civilians during an 11-month government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. The government says 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed.

China and Russia joined other U.N. Security Council members Thursday in expressing "deep disappointment" at Syria's failure to allow the U.N. humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos to visit the country and urged that she be allowed in immediately.

But China has also long been reluctant to back international intervention in domestic turmoil. That wariness was rekindled last year when NATO forces cited a U.N. resolution to protect civilians in warring Libya as authority for an air bombing campaign that was crucial to eventually ousting Muammar Gaddafi.

China abstained that from Libya resolution, but later suggested NATO powers exceeded the U.N. mandate through their expanding bombing campaign.

The latest statement emphasized China does not want to open the way to similar action against the Syrian government through any international humanitarian action.

"We oppose anyone interfering in Syria's internal affairs under the pretext of 'humanitarian' issues," it said.

China and Russia have twice used their veto power as permanent members of the Security Council to quash proposed resolutions condemning Damascus and urging Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to give up power.

"China does not approve of armed interference or pushing for 'regime change' in Syria, and believes that use or threat of sanctions does not help to resolve this issue appropriately," the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley in Beijing and Giles Elgood in London; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)