BEIJING (Reuters) - China responded cautiously on Thursday to a call by U.S. President Barack Obama for a broad coalition to root out Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, saying the world should fight terror but that the sovereignty of countries must be respected.
Obama also told Americans on Wednesday that he had authorized U.S. air strikes for the first time in Syria and more attacks in Iraq in an escalation of a campaign against Islamic State.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the world was facing a terror threat that was a "new challenge" to international cooperation.
"China opposes all forms of terrorism, and upholds that the international community must jointly cooperate to strike against terrorism, including supporting efforts by relevant countries to maintain domestic security and stability," Hua told a daily news briefing when asked about Obama's comments.
"At the same time, we also uphold that in the international fight against terrorism, international law should be respected and the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of relevant nations should also be respected," she added.
"China is willing to continue increasing exchanges and cooperation on fighting terrorism with the international community on the basis of mutual respect and cooperation."
China has repeatedly expressed concern about the upsurge in violence in Iraq and the march of Islamic State, but it has also opposed any outside military intervention in Syria.
In July, China's Middle East envoy said that Muslim extremists from China's far western region of Xinjiang had gone to the Middle East for training and some may have crossed into Iraq.
Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur people who speak a Turkic language, has been beset by unrest for years, blamed by Beijing on Islamist extremists who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan.
While many experts outside China doubt these groups have anywhere near the abilities Beijing accuses them of, some Uighurs have made their way to Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent years.
China is Iraq's largest oil client, and its state energy firms, which include PetroChina (0857.HK), Sinopec Group and CNOOC Ltd (0883.HK), together hold more than a fifth of Iraq's oil projects after securing some of its fields through auctions in 2009.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie