China pressed for a political solution to the crisis in Syria yesterday, and warned that expanding the conflict could hurt global economic growth.
Chinese officials made the comments in St Petersburg, where President Xi Jinping was making his debut at the G20 summit. The summit of the world's largest economies was overshadowed by US President Barack Obama's effort to overcome Russian opposition to a military strike on Syria.
Qin Gang , spokesman for the Beijing delegation, said that in a meeting between Xi and his Russian host, President Vladimir Putin, the two men did not discuss Syria "due to limited time", China National Radio and Russian media reported. Phoenix TV reported that the meeting lasted an hour.
But Qin expressed caution about any US-led military response, urging "the concerned countries to be highly prudent".
"War cannot solve the problem in Syria," Qin said. "A political solution is the only way to solve the issue."
Beijing warned that any strike could hurt the global economy by increasing uncertainty and driving up oil prices. "Military action would have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price," said Deputy Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao , who estimated that a US$10 increase in the price of crude oil could reduce global growth by 0.25 per cent.
China and Russia vetoed a UN resolution condemning the Syrian government's crackdown on protests in February.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry quoted Xi yesterday as saying that China was committed to enhancing its strategic partnership with Russia and protecting the interest of emerging markets.
Xi and Putin witnessed the signing of documents boosting trade ties, including a long-awaited deal that will see Russia shipping up to 68 billion cubic metres of natural gas to China a year.
Observers believe Beijing would like to play down the Syria crisis, since Xi will meet Obama on the sidelines. Even though China is expected to side with Russia over Syria, a high-profile stance by Xi could cause unease in Washington, they said.
Additional reporting by Reuters, Agence France-Presse