17 Feb 2012

China sending deputy foreign minister to Syria

5:31 am on 17 February 2012

China is sending a senior envoy to Syria to try to mediate an end to the fighting there.

Deputy Foreign Minister Zhai Jun will go to the capital, Damascus, on Friday. He will be there for two days.

China has been widely criticised for vetoing a UN Security Council resolution urging President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

The UN General Assembly is to vote later on an Arab-sponsored resolution condemning the Syrian government.

The resolution also backs an Arab League plan calling for President al-Assad to hand power to his vice-president.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Syrian forces to stop killing civilians and said crimes against humanity might be taking place there.

In Beijing on Thursday, Mr Zhai said that China does not approve of armed intervention or forcing "regime change" in Syria.

He also said sanctions or the threat of sanctions were not conducive to an appropriate resolution.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman would not say if Mr Zhai would also meet Syrian opposition representatives during the two-day visit. The BBC reports Mr Zhai met a Syrian opposition delegation in Beijing last week.

Mr Zhai's trip follows a visit to Syria by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.