China seeking to coax compromise in Syria: state paper
BEIJING (Reuters) - China hopes talks with a Syrian government envoy and a proposed visit by opposition representatives will help rescue chances for a brokered solution to their deepening conflict, Beijing's top state newspaper said on Wednesday.
The People's Daily, the official newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party, warned that the civil war risked tipping into a dangerous new phase. The warning came after Syrian government envoy, Bouthaina Shaaban, arrived in Beijing for talks about the crisis engulfing President Bashar al-Assad.
So far, Chinese media have not given any reports about Shaaban's talks. But a commentary in the People's Daily cast her visit as part of Beijing's efforts to rescue hopes for a negotiated end to the conflict.
"Delaying a political solution to the Syrian issue will push the country into even more violent civil war and exacerbate disorder in the Middle East," said the paper, which generally reflects government thinking.
"At this critical moment, China has invited the special envoy of the Syrian president to visit China, and is also considering soon inviting Syrian opposition organizations to visit," said the commentary.
"This is China's latest diplomatic effort to promote a political solution to the Syrian issue."
The media commentary underscored the extent to which China remains resistant to Western proposals for more forceful steps in Syria, where the conflict is lurching into worse bloodshed and the tide turns steadily against Assad.
Leaders of Muslim countries are expected to suspend Syria's membership of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation at a summit in Mecca later on Wednesday, despite objections from Assad's main ally Iran.
Opposition sources say at least 18,000 people have been killed since rebels began fighting to oust Assad in March 2011.
Apart from Iran, China and Russia have been Syria's main supporters outside the Arab world and both vetoed proposed U.N. Security Council resolutions meant to add pressure on Assad.
Although the former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan quit in frustration as the international peace envoy for Syria early this month, China has continued to argue that his proposals offer the most viable way out of the increasingly blood war.
The People's Daily again warned Western powers against going outside of U.N. auspices to tackle the Syrian crisis.
"The key to resolving Syria's problems lies in the hands of the Syrian people," said the paper. "But nor can it do without the support of the international community, and coordination and cooperation among the countries in the U.N. Security Council is vitally important."
Western calls for establishing a no-fly zone over Syria "wrecked the unity of the Security Council" and undermined Annan's mediation efforts, said the paper.
China has repeatedly expressed its opposition to external intervention in strife-torn countries, as well to any kind of "regime change" pushed by foreign governments.
On Tuesday, China also hosted the U.S. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman for talks about the Middle East, including Syria, the State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters. (Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Paul Tait)
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