BEIJING China on Wednesday reiterated its opposition to military intervention in Syria amid outrage of the massacre of 108 people, nearly half of them children, and called again for all sides to support mediation efforts by peace envoy Kofi Annan.
The killings in the village of Houla, some of which the U.N. peacekeeping chief said bore the hallmarks of pro-government militias, have increased pressure on Western governments to intervene.
"China opposes military intervention and does not support forced regime change," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a daily news briefing. "The fundamental route to resolving (the crisis) is still for all sides to fully support Annan's mediation efforts."
Liu also stopped short of saying whether China would expel Syrian diplomats, after many Western governments expelled their top Syrian envoys in protest against the killing of civilians in Syria.
"I have not heard that there has been any impact on the Syrian embassy in China," he said.
"We have already made our position clear on the incident. China believes there should be a thorough probe and the murderers brought to justice."
Western and Arab governments opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad put the blame for the deaths squarely on his government, but Damascus has rejected the charge. The massacre was among the worst carnage of the 14-month uprising against Assad's government.
Military intervention cannot be ruled out if it is backed by the U.N. Security Council, French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday.
Beijing and Moscow have both vetoed two Security Council resolutions calling for tougher action against Damascus, while stressing hopes for a political solution brokered by Annan, the former U.N. Secretary-General.
Russia is categorically opposed to military intervention and believes it would be premature for the U.N. Security Council to consider new measures, the Interfax news agency cited Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov as saying on Wednesday.
Any military intervention needs to be discussed thoroughly as it would carry high risk, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said after expelling two Syrian diplomats on Tuesday.
"To arm the Syrian opposition involves real difficulties. Members of the Assad government will interpret this as a license to slaughter even more vigorously than they've been doing to their political opponents," Carr told reporters.
China has repeatedly voiced fears that more forceful international intervention in Syria could worsen the violence, or open the way for Western-led regime change.
The Global Times, a popular tabloid, said in an editorial on Wednesday that it was wrong to assume getting rid of Assad would end the crisis.
"Half the Syrian population remains loyal to Assad, and eradicating this support will be unspeakably painful for the Syrian people," wrote the newspaper, published by the Communist Party mouthpiece, the People's Daily.
"The West should not expect China and Russia's cooperation if it insists on dictating its own values and standards to the world by any means it can. It will instead find China and Russia standing in its way."
(Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)