Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (R) meets Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun in Damascus on February 18
A picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (R) meeting Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun in Damascus on February 18, 2012. China refused again on Thursday to say whether it would attend a global conference aimed at ending the violence in Syria, as a bloody crackdown on protesters intensified. © - AFP/SANA/File
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (R) meets Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun in Damascus on February 18
AFP
Last updated: February 23, 2012

China again refuses to commit to Syria meeting

China said Thursday it will not attend a global conference in Tunisia aimed at ending the deadly violence in Syria, weeks after it joined Russia in vetoing a UN resolution.

Citing foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei, state news agency Xinhua said Beijing would not send a representative to the "Friends of Syria" meeting to be held in Tunis on Friday.

Moscow has also said it will boycott the Tunis meeting, which will bring together senior Arab and Western diplomats as well as representatives of the Syrian opposition.

Beijing, which has a long-held policy of non-interference in other countries' affairs, has been strongly criticised for joining Russia in vetoing two UN Security Council resolutions on the crisis in Syria.

China has repeatedly defended its decision to veto the latest resolution earlier this month, saying it was "willing to play a constructive role with all sides for the peaceful resolution of the Syrian crisis".

An influential Chinese newspaper this week warned that Western support for Syrian rebels could trigger civil war in the violence-hit nation.

But as the bloodshed in Syria continues, Beijing is under increasing pressure to alter its neutral stance. The United States had encouraged China to attend the Tunis meeting, saying to do so would be a "positive sign."

After China's decision, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that Beijing's non-attendance would not weaken the Tunisia meeting.

"We're no different than we were after the UN Security Council vote, where two countries isolated themselves and the rest of the world spoke out in support of the Syrian people," Toner told reporters.

"We would prefer them to side with the Syrian people and to understand the gravity of the situation in Syria and the need for the international community to speak with one voice on Syria, certainly," he said.

More than 7,600 people have died, most of them civilians, since President Bashar al-Assad's regime began cracking down on protests in March last year, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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