Chinese envoy calls on Syrians to stop acts of violence

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun speaks to the media in Damascus, Syria, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012. Jun said China was "extremely concerned" about the escalation of the crisis in Syria. (AP Photo/Muzaffar Salman)
Muzaffar Salman
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun speaks to the media in Damascus, Syria, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012
Muzaffar Salman/AP

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun urged all Syrians to immediately stop the violence and told Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad that Beijing backs plans for a referendum leading to parliamentary elections as a way to resolve the Syrian crisis.

The Chinese envoy, who arrived Friday night for a two-day trip, wanted to step up diplomatic efforts for ending the 11-month violence in Syria, two weeks after his country drew global condemnation when it vetoed a resolution that backed an Arab plan urging Assad to quit.

"We hope that the referendum on the constitution and the parliamentary elections take place in a continuous way," Jun said, following his talks with Assad.

"China's stance is embodied in calling the government, the opposition and the armed groups to immediately stop acts of violence," he said, according to Syrian state television.

"We hope calm would be restored as quickly as possible, as that serves the interests of the Syrian people," he added.

"What Syria is exposed to would aim primarily to divide the country and strike its geopolitical position and its historical role in the region," Assad told the Chinese envoy, adding that Damascus will "continue the process of reform in accordance with a clear plan and a definite timetable."

Assad opponents say the referendum, announced Wednesday for February 26, and other reforms will not be enough, insisting Assad must go.

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China's embassy in Damascus said Zhai would also hold talks with opposition figures later Saturday.

Upon arrival at the Syrian capital, Damascus, Zhai said he would try to help find a "proper solution to the Syrian issue."

"The sovereignty, unity, independence and the security of the Syrian territories should be respected by all sides and by the international community. We support the independent choice of the Syrian people, the national dialogue and future reforms. We hope that Damascus would make progress in this direction," he said following his meeting with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Miqdad Friday night.

Syrian Assistant Foreign Minister Ahmad Arnous said Zhai's visit to Damascus is of "great importance," adding that Beijing has adopted "a just and equitable stance toward the Syrian issue."

China has repeatedly defended its decision to veto the United Nations Security Council resolution, saying it would not protect the regime of Assad and that its priority was to prevent further violence.

The UN General Assembly, however, voted on Thursday on an Arab-sponsored resolution condemning the Syrian government. The measure cannot be vetoed in the Assembly, but the resolution is nonbinding.

At least 5,400 people have been killed in the Syrian government's crackdown on protesters, according to the UN. Syrian authorities blame the violence on armed gangs affiliated with al-Qaeda and say more than 2,000 soldiers and police have been killed.

Zhai's visit follows one by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who days after the double-kick veto traveled to Damascus as the United States shut its embassy and many European countries recalled their envoys.