BEIJING China backs a "political transition" in Syria to end worsening bloodshed after 18 months of unrest, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said on Wednesday while repeating Beijing's opposition to forceful foreign intervention.
The government of President Bashar al-Assad has been beset by growing opposition and armed rebellion, and Yang's remarks highlighted Beijing efforts to accommodate calls for change while resisting Western pressure to open the way to military involvement.
"We and many countries all support a period of political transition in Syria," Yang said at a news conference after talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"But we also believe that any solution should come from the people of Syria and reflect their wishes," he said. "It should not be imposed from outside."
On June 30, China joined other world powers in agreeing that a transitional government should be formed in Syria. China has also repeatedly urged the Syrian government to talk with the opposition and take steps to meet public demands for political change.
But China is wary of calls for change snowballing into foreign intervention, and Yang's remarks reflected that caution.
Last year, China joined Russia in approving a U.N. Security Council resolution on intervening in Libya, but later suggested NATO powers had exceeded the U.N. mandate by expanding a bombing campaign that proved decisive in toppling Muammar Gaddafi.
China and Russia are wary of a repeat in Syria.
"We advocate that Syria should initiate a political transition process led by the Syrian people as soon as possible," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily briefing after Yang's remarks.
"We believe Syria's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity should be respected."
CHINA "IMPARTIAL" ON SYRIA
Lakhdar Brahimi, the new United Nations-Arab League mediator on Syria, has described his bid to broker peace there as "nearly impossible" but Yang stuck to a more hopeful message.
"I said in a phone call (to Brahimi) that China fully supports his mediation efforts and we hope all the parties will also support his mediation efforts so there can be an appropriate and peaceful solution to the situation in Syria," Yang said.
"On the question of Syria, let me emphasize that China is not partial to any individual or any party," he said.
"We hope that members of the international community will bring their positive influence to bear and get the various parties in Syria to adopt a realistic, calm and constructive attitude so that there can be an early beginning of political dialogue and transition."
The U.N. General Assembly last month overwhelmingly approved a non-binding resolution expressing "grave concern" at the escalation of violence and condemned the U.N. Security Council for its failure to take strong action.
But the Security Council has been prevented from taking stronger action by China and Russia, which have blocked three Western-backed resolutions that criticized Assad and threatened sanctions against Syria. A council meeting on the crisis on Thursday achieved nothing new.
Yang said China stood by a principle of non-intervention in the affairs of other countries.
Clinton acknowledged it was "no secret" the U.S. government was disappointed by the positions of China and Russia and reiterated that the best course of action remained tough U.N. Security Council action.
"We hope to continue to unite behind a real path forward to end the violence in Syria," Clinton said.
Meanwhile, she said, the United States would work with like-minded countries to plan for the day when Assad leaves power, "because we are convinced that he will".
(Reporting by Andrew Quinn, Chris Buckley and Michael Martina; Writing by Terril Yue Jones and Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie)