BEIJING – China on Wednesday accused some Western countries of seeking regime change in Syria and blamed their increasing support for rebel forces in the civil war there as hurting the solidarity of the U.N. Security Council.
The remarks in the official People's Daily newspaper came as China hosted an envoy of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for talks. No details of the talks were released Wednesday.
China and Russia have repeatedly used their veto power at the U.N. Security Council to block strong Western- and Arab-backed action against Assad. Moscow is a key ally of Assad, and China cites its own stance against military intervention.
The Communist Party's People's Daily repeated China's position that the only solution to the Syrian crisis is a political one and criticized some Western countries' open discussion of a no-fly zone as undermining a multilateral approach led by outgoing U.N. peace envoy Kofi Annan.
"This destroys the internal unity of the Security Council, causing the international community to be unable to reach consensus and for Annan's mediation efforts to be unable to play a role," the paper said in a commentary.
"All kinds of indications show that the rumors that some Western powers are looking outside the framework of the United Nations for a solution to the Syrian problem are not baseless," it said.
China's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that Assad's political and media adviser, Buthaina Shaaban, was to meet with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi for talks. It also said it was considering inviting members of Syrian opposition groups to visit.
Yang was expected to reiterate calls for both sides in Syria to implement Annan's six-point peace plan to end the fighting that has killed an estimated 20,000 people over the last 18 months. Annan is resigning at the end of the month due to his failure to achieve even a temporary cease-fire in the civil war.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday that Washington hopes China will encourage the Assad regime to end the violence and comply with Annan's peace plan.
Unlike Russia, China does not have longstanding strategic ties to Assad's government, but Beijing opposes setting precedents that could potentially be applied to its troubled western regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. China feels burned by Western intervention in Libya, believing that the U.S. and European powers over-interpreted a U.N. resolution to attack the government of Moammar Gadhafi, not just protect Libyan civilians.
In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said plans to set up a no-fly zone over parts of Syria were "not on the front burner," despite persistent calls from rebel forces there that they need the added protection from escalating regime airstrikes.