* China veto exposes rift over international role
* China wary of West after experience with Libya
* Protest at Chinese Embassy in Libya
(Adds protest at Chinese Embassy in Libya)
By Chris Buckley
BEIJING, Feb 6 China defended its
rejection of a U.N. resolution pressing Syrian President Bashar
al-Assad to abandon power, with a top state newspaper saying
Western intervention in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq exposed the
risks of forced regime change.
China said its blocking, along with Russia, of the U.N.
resolution which would have backed an Arab plan urging Assad to
quit, did not amount to supporting the Syrian leader. Activists
accused his forces of bombarding part of the city of Homs before
the U.N. vote in the worst bloodshed of the 11-month uprising.
"On the issue of Syria, China is not playing favourites and
nor is it deliberately opposing anyone, but rather is upholding
an objective and fair stance and a responsible position,"
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters in
Western powers that initiated the U.N. Security Council vote
on their draft resolution were culpable for not going far enough
in seeking compromise, said Liu.
"Our goal is for the Syrian people to escape violence,
conflict and flames of war, and not to make the problem even
more complicated," he said.
"Unfortunately, the countries that proposed the resolution
forced a vote despite the serious differences among various
sides, and this approach was not conducive to the unity and
authority of Security Council and is not conducive to the
appropriate resolution of the problem. Therefore, China voted
against the draft resolution," Liu added.
China's explanation is unlikely to mollify critics in
Western capitals and the Middle East.
The conflicting Chinese and Western positions have exposed a
wider rift about how China should use its growing influence and
whether it should foresake its long-standing, albeit unevenly
applied, principle of non-interference in other countries'
China's siding with Russia over Syria could add to irritants
with the United States. Vice President Xi Jinping, the Communist
Party's likely next leader, is due to visit there next week.
"Whatever the (Syria) resolution may have said on paper,
both China and Russia worried that it could have laid the way
for legitimising another armed intervention," said Guo
Xian'gang, a senior research fellow at the China Institute of
International Studies, a government-run think tank in Beijing.
China is one of the five permanent U.N. Security Council
members that hold the power to veto resolutions.
Russia and China's veto on Saturday came a day after
activists said Syrian forces killed more than 200 people in
Homs. Syrian forces bombarded the city again on Monday, killing
50 people, the opposition said.
All 13 other members of the Security Council voted for the
resolution, which also called for a withdrawal of Syrian troops
from towns and the beginning of a transition to democracy.
Dozens of Syrian and Libyan demonstrators threw rocks, eggs
and tomatoes at the Chinese embassy in Tripoli, where they also
broke windows and sprayed graffiti on walls in a show of disgust
at the veto.
Asked about criticisms, such as those from the U.S.
ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, who said more
bloodshed would be on Russian and Chinese hands, Liu said:
"China does not accept such accusations."
"FRESH SEEDS OF DISASTER"
The People's Daily, China's top party newspaper, also
defended the veto, and suggested that Chinese distrust of
Western intervention lay behind it.
"Currently, the situation in Syria is extremely complex.
Simplistically supporting one side and suppressing the other
might seem a helpful way of turning things around, but in fact
it would be sowing fresh seeds of disaster," the newspaper,
which echoes government thinking, said in the commentary.
The author of the commentary used the pen name "Zhong
Sheng", which can mean "voice of China" and is often used to
give the government's position on foreign policy.
The People's Daily spelled out broader Chinese concerns
about U.S.-backed action in the Arab world and beyond, citing
the campaign in Libya. In March, China abstained from a Security
Council vote that authorised NATO intervention in Libya.
The resolution became the basis for the NATO air campaign
that led to the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, despite misgivings
from Beijing and Moscow about the expanded campaign, which they
said went beyond the resolution.
"Libya offers a negative case study. NATO abused the
Security Council resolution about establishing a no-fly zone,
and directly provided firepower assistance to one side," said
the People's Daily.
"The calamities of Iraq and Afghanistan should be ample to
wipe clear the world's eyes. Forceful prevention of a
humanitarian disaster sounds filled with a sense of justice and
responsibility," the paper said.
"But are not the unstoppable attacks and explosions over a
decade after regime change a humanitarian disaster?"
Guo, the Beijing-based researcher, who is an expert on the
Middle East, said the Libya experience probably still stung
Chinese officials, who also worry about possible Western or
Israeli military strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities.
"If the Libya model was applied to Syria, then it could be
applied again and again, so China and Russia were more resolute
this time," said Guo.
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)