China said Thursday it is sending an envoy to Syria to push for a “peaceful” end to the conflict there, after drawing condemnation for vetoing a resolution condemning a crackdown on protesters.
China and Russia have faced a barrage of criticism for blocking a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the bloody crackdown on protests in Syria, including from Arab nations with which Beijing normally has good ties.
Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun will visit Syria from February 17 to 18, foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a regular briefing.
“He will exchange views with the Syrian government and parties concerned in Syria on the current... situation to push for a peaceful and proper resolution of the... crisis,” Liu said.
Beijing said Tuesday one of its diplomats had met the Arab League head to discuss the crisis and that another envoy would soon go to the Middle East.
Li Huaxin travelled to Egypt on Friday to meet with foreign ministry officials and held talks with Nabil el-Araby, head of the Arab League, on Monday to explain why Beijing vetoed the resolution.
Li, who was Beijing’s ambassador to Syria until last year, will go to Saudi Arabia and Qatar to further lay out China’s position on Syria, Liu said previously.
China’s special envoy on the Middle East Wu Sike will also travel to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan from February 19 to 23 to expand on Beijing’s position on Syria.
China has repeatedly defended its decision to veto the U.N. Security Council resolution, saying it would not protect the regime of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and that its priority was to prevent further violence.
Beijing said last week it had held talks with a key Syrian opposition group, the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change, which it said called for China “to play a bigger role” in resolving the Syrian crisis.
Liu said Thursday that Zhai would deliver a message to Syria that China “hopes for a peaceful and proper resolution” to the crisis and “the Chinese side will play a constructive role in mediation”.
Thirteen countries voted for the UN Security Council resolution, which aimed to give strong backing to the Arab League’s plan to end a deadly government crackdown on protesters.
More than 6,000 people have died in nearly a year of upheaval in Syria, as Assad’s hardline regime seeks to snuff out a revolt that began with peaceful protests in March 2011 amid the Arab Spring.
Assad on Wednesday called a constitutional referendum for later this month that would effectively end nearly 50 years of single-party rule, which critics see as a move aimed at placating growing global outrage over the bloodshed.
The United States dismissed the call for a referendum as “laughable”.
“Promises of reforms have usually been followed by an increase in brutality and have never been delivered upon by this regime since the beginning of peaceful demonstrations in Syria,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.