China on Tuesday backed a Russian plan to head off threatened punitive US air strikes on Syria by destroying the regime’s chemical weapons.
“We welcome and support the Russian side’s suggestion,” foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a regular briefing in Beijing.
“As long as the suggestion is conducive to easing the current tension in Syria, solving the Syria issue politically and safeguarding peace and stability of Syria and the region, the international community should give positive consideration to it,” he added.
Officials from China’s foreign ministry were due to meet on Tuesday with a visiting delegation of six members of the Syrian opposition and “exchange views with them on the situation”, Hong added.
Washington accuses Bashar al-Assad’s forces of using chemical weapons to kill 1,429 people last month, and has been looking to build international momentum for a punitive strike.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on Damascus to “place the chemical weapons under international control and then have them destroyed”.
President Barack Obama has said the idea could be a “significant breakthrough”.
China is a veto-wielding permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and over the course of the conflict it has joined with Russia, a fellow veto-holder, to block resolutions supported by Washington and its allies.
Beijing regularly calls for a “political solution” to the crisis in Syria.
Hong’s comments came after a senior American defence official pressed the US case for action in Syria at talks in Beijing by arguing that neighbouring Pyongyang should not be allowed to believe it could get away with using chemical weapons.
“I emphasised the massive weapons arsenal that North Korea has, and that we didn’t want to live in a world in which North Korea felt that the threshold for chemical weapons use had been lowered,” US Under Secretary of defence James Miller said he told his counterpart Lieutenant General Wang Guanzhong on Monday.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, he said he stressed “the importance from not just a US perspective but an international including Chinese perspective that this norm against the use of chemical weapons be upheld”.