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China says U.S. rushing into Syria over chemical weapons

The worsening Syria conflict has exposed an uncomfortable truth behind China's cherished policy of non-interference: Beijing cannot do much to influence events even if it wanted to. (STRINGER SHANGHAI/REUTERS)

As the United States moves toward intervention in Syria, China on Thursday urged restraint, warning that military action would only exacerbate the turmoil in Syria.

“China calls on all parties to exercise restraint and calm,” said China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi. He said a political solution was “the only realistic way out on the Syrian issue.”

Wang’s statement, posted on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Web site, was accompanied by a chorus of harsher editorials in China’s state-controlled media, accusing Western powers of rushing to judgment and using chemical weapons as an excuse to cover up less righteous motives.

China has followed Russia’s lead in opposing growing international calls for action against Syria, especially after emerging evidence in recent days that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government deployed chemical weapons.

China and Russia blocked a resolution in a closed-door session of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to authorize force in response to the use of chemical weapons. But the Obama administration appears to be moving forward regardless with preparations to attack Syria, calling further discussion within the United Nations pointless because of long-standing opposition by Russia and China.

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In his statement Thursday, Wang said China opposes the use of chemical weapons, but he argued that a U.N. team in Syria should be given more time to carry out chemical weapons inspections.

The United States and others have cast doubts on the investigation as yet another tool that can be used by Syria to delay intervention while the civilian death toll climbs.

Although China depends heavily on the Middle East for oil to fuel its growing energy needs and rapidly expanding economy, it has relatively few oil interests in Syria. But it has long hewed to a principle of nonintervention — partly to ward off Western involvement in its own affairs, according to analysts, but also because it generally favors, above all else, stability in the Middle East over the turmoil sparked by regime changes.

Along with Russia, China has been a main supplier of weapons to Syria’s military — providing Assad’s government with $300 million in arms between 2003 to 2010, according to a 2011 U.S. Congressional Research Service report. Russia supplied $2.9 billion in arms.

An editorial Wednesday in the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s main mouthpiece, said other powers have already passed judgment on chemical weapons without regard to the truth.

On Thursday, the overseas edition of the newspaper adopted even stronger language, comparing possible intervention in Syria due to chemical weapons a “trick” and “excuse” similar to the U.S.-led attack to depose Saddam Hussein in Iraq based on accusations of weapons of mass destruction that turned out to be untrue.

“Use of force against Syria,” Thursday’s editorial said, “would cause even graver consequences than the war in Iraq.”

Li Qi contributed to this report.

William Wan is the Post's roving national correspondent, based in Washington, D.C. He previously served as the paper’s religion reporter and diplomatic correspondent and for three years as the Post’s China correspondent in Beijing.

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