With US warships poised to punish Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons, the few Chinese civilians and company employees still in the country are fleeing and China's foreign minister and state media have warned against the use of force and called for a political solution.
"Currently there are only about 10 to 20 Chinese nationals still in Syria, excluding diplomats and journalists," China Business News quoted a Chinese diplomat as saying yesterday.
The diplomat said "a few remaining staff with one or two Chinese state-owned companies" were expected to leave as well. Xinhua quoted a trade official as saying that Chinese oil companies had also withdrawn their staff.
Russia is moving two warships to the eastern Mediterranean, Interfax news agency said yesterday, but Moscow denied this meant it was beefing up its naval force there.
A missile cruiser from the Black Sea Fleet and a large anti-submarine ship from the Northern Fleet would be deployed in the "coming days". But a Russian navy official said it was part of a "planned rotation".
US President Barack Obama said he had yet to sign off on a plan to strike Damascus even as Britain sent six RAF Typhoon jets to its Akrotiri base in Cyprus. "I have not made a decision," Obama told PBS NewsHour.
Britain said it would still be permitted under international law to take military action against Syria even if such a move was blocked by the UN Security Council.
British lawmakers were to vote yesterday on how to respond to such situations - but approval for military action will require a second vote.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said his investigating team would leave Syria by tomorrow and report to him immediately. He appealed to international powers to work together to head off military action and said: "Diplomacy should be given a chance ... peace [should] be given a chance."
Zhong Manying , head of the Ministry of Commerce's Department of Western Asian and African Affairs, said trade and business co-operation between China and Syria had suffered due to the escalating tension.
"A political resolution is the only way out for the Syrian issue," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a statement. "China calls on all sides to exercise restraint and remain calm.
"Military interference from the outside will conflict with the United Nations charter and exacerbate turmoil in the Middle East. Nobody should interfere with or prejudge the investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria."
In a signed commentary headlined, "Use of force against Syria - more serious consequences than Iraq war", the overseas edition of People's Daily said the true aim of the US was not related to chemical weapons.
Rather, it was "eagerly wanting to 'smuggle contraband' to help the opposition, promote regime change in Syria, and thus establish international rules and an international order that is advantageous to them".
Reuters, Agence France-Presse