Envoy for Syrian president visits China for talks

China sought to defuse criticism of its policy on Syria's violence, saying while hosting a government envoy Tuesday that opposition figures may also visit Beijing soon.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's political and media adviser, Buthaina Shaaban, was due to meet Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi for talks, the Foreign Ministry said.

That reflects long-standing close ties between China and Syria that have prompted China to join with Russia in the U.N. Security Council to block action that could force Assad from power.

However, China also is considering inviting members of Syrian opposition groups to visit. Opposition representatives have visited before, but the worsening civil war would lend another visit added importance.

"China has always actively promoted its work between the Syrian government and the opposition in a balanced way to achieve a political solution to the Syria issue," spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement.

Yang is expected to reiterate calls for both sides in Syria to implement special envoy Kofi 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 even achieve a temporary cease-fire in the civil war.

China and Russia have been sharply criticized by the United States and other Western countries for vetoing Security Council resolutions that might have opened the door to sanctions on Syria and ultimately force Assad from power.

China has a firm policy against supporting international humanitarian interventions and felt burned after abstaining on a vote supporting no-fly zones in Libya. China accused NATO of overstepping the resolution's mandate and vowed to block any similar measures in future.

China has strongly rejected criticism that it was hampering efforts to end the Syrian conflict.

Annan and U.S. officials have come to Beijing recently to seek China's backing on the U.N.'s resolutions, or to at least abstain as it did in the Libyan case, but there have been no signs that China will change its stance.