China appoints first special envoy for Syrian crisis

Envoy to crisis zone named as Beijing aims for more active role in Middle East

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 March, 2016, 12:14am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 March, 2016, 12:14am

China on Tuesday appointed its first special envoy for the Syrian crisis, a career diplomat who has served as ambassador to Iran, as it seeks a more active role in the Middle East.

While relying on the region for oil supplies, China tends to leave Middle Eastern diplomacy to the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely the United States, Britain, France and Russia.

But China has been trying to get more involved, including recently hosting both Syria’s foreign minister and opposition figures, though at different times.

The new special envoy for Syria was Xie Xiaoyan, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. He was most recently China’s ambassador to Ethiopia and the African Union.

“As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has always proactively dedicated itself to the appropriate resolution of the Syria issue,” Hong said, adding that a political solution was the only way out.

China backs ‘transition’ in Syria, opposes intervention

Hong said China supported the mediation efforts of UN Syria special envoy Staffan de Mistura and had provided humanitarian assistance to the region.

China’s appointment of its own special envoy was to help push the peace process and “to better proactively put forward China’s wisdom” and its proposals, he added.

Xie, 62, was a deeply experienced diplomat very familiar with the Middle East, Hong said.

“We believe he will certainly fulfil this mission well.”

China has appointed special envoys for crisis zones before, to mixed results.

Its African envoys have been deeply involved in South Sudan, but its previous special envoys to the Middle East have had little tangible effect.

There is a truce in place in Syria, accepted by President Bashar al-Assad’s government and most of his foes, the first of its kind since the war began five years ago.

It has been accompanied by the first peace talks attended by the warring sides. It does not apply to areas held by Islamic State or the Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.