BEIJING Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said on Tuesday it was urgent to prevent war and chaos in Syria and vowed to work through the United Nations to seek an end to civil strife in the country.
His comments came days after China and Russia blocked a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that backed an Arab plan urging Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to quit amid his government's violent crackdown on opposition groups.
Wen, briefing reporters with the European Council and European Commission presidents at the start of an EU-China summit in Beijing, added that Beijing did not seek to protect any party, including the government of Syria.
"On the issue of Syria, what is most urgent and pressing now is to prevent war and chaos so that the Syrian people will be free from even greater suffering," Wen said in response to question from reporters.
"To achieve this objective, China supports efforts consistent with the UN charter and principles and we are ready to strengthen communication with all parties in Syria and the international community and continue to play a constructive role. China will absolutely not protect any party, including the government of Syria."
China has come under fire for blocking the draft UN Security Council resolution, a stance it has defended as being consistent with its practice of not interfering in the internal affairs of other nations.
Joining Wen at the Great Hall of the People, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said all UN Security Council members should act on Syria.
Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso were in Beijing for a summit with Chinese leaders, delayed since late last year as European leaders struggled to deal with an escalating debt crisis.
On Monday, U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of launching an "indiscriminate attack" on civilians to end pro-democracy protests and said he had been emboldened by the failure of the Security Council to condemn him.
Pillay told the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly the February 4 veto by Russia and China of a draft Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian government and endorsing an Arab League plan for Assad to step aside had encouraged Damascus to intensify its attacks.
Syria's uprising, in which the United Nations says more than 5,400 people have been killed, has become one of the bloodiest of the Arab Spring revolts sweeping the region since the end of 2010.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Lucy Hornby; Writing by Ken Wills; Editing by Nick Macfie)