China sending envoy to Syria

China steps up efforts to mediate in the Syrian crisis after being scolded by the West and many in the Arab world.

Beijing: China said on Thursday it would send a senior diplomat to Syria as it steps up efforts to mediate in the Syrian crisis after being scolded by the West and many in the Arab world for vetoing a UN resolution calling for Syria`s President to step down.

China and Russia this month blocked a draft UN Security Council resolution backing an Arab plan urging President Bashar al-Assad to give up power after 11 months of bloodshed between Syrian forces and protesters demanding reform.

China said it was simply trying to prevent more violence and was acting in accordance with the UN charter, but it later sent two junior envoys to the Middle East to explain its position and was now sending a more senior diplomat.

Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun will travel to Syria on Friday and Saturday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a regular briefing.

"The details of the trip are still being arranged. The message is that China hopes to push for a peaceful, appropriate resolution to the Syria crisis," Liu said.

"China is willing to continue playing a constructive, mediation role in resolving the crisis," he said, without providing further details.

He did not say if Zhai would also meet Syrian opposition representatives. Zhai met a Syrian opposition delegation in Beijing last week.

The trip comes days after China warned that Western powers should tread carefully at the United Nations in dealing with Syria, or risk worsening violence.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao vowed this week to work through the United Nations to seek an end to the strife.

Zhai`s trip follows one by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who days after the veto travelled to Damascus as the United States shut its embassy and European countries recalled their envoys.

"Tangled mess"

Imad Mustafa, Syria`s former ambassador to the United States, now ambassador to China, said in an interview with China`s Xinhua news agency this week that any Chinese envoy would be warmly welcomed.

"Last week Russia`s Foreign Minister visited Syria and in Damascus about 2 million people holding Russian flags turned out to greet him and say `thank you`. If Chinese officials also pay a visit there, there would be even more Syrian people there to greet them," he said.

China`s ruling Communist Party mouthpiece, the People`s Daily, said in a commentary foreign meddling in Syria risked stirring up a hornets` nest of instability in the Middle East, which could shock markets and derail a weak global economy.

"The political ecology in the Middle East is extremely frail, a tangled mess of thousands of years of ethnic and religious conflict," the People`s Daily said on Thursday.

World powers must realise this and handle bloodshed in Syria and Middle East tension with a sense of realism, it said, noting that the spread of conflict would be a "catastrophe" in a crucial phase of global economic recovery.

"The Middle East is the world`s most important fuel depot. If gripped by chaos, oil prices would skyrocket, shocking the stock market, financial systems and economies," the paper said.

The author used the pen name "Zhong Sheng”, which can mean "voice of China" and is often used to give government positions on foreign policy.

The People`s Daily said the United States wanted to establish a friendly government in Syria to counter the influence of its "old enemy" in the region, Iran.

"Once Syria sets up a pro-Western regime, Iran will lose important backing," it said.

Bureau Report