China tells Assad to stop violence: Xinhua

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looking at Islamic scripture during a visit to the al-Amawi mosque in Damascus on March 20. China on Wednesday hailed a UN statement on Syria as a positive step towards a political settlement and called on Assad's government to "cease violence immediately"

China on Wednesday hailed a UN statement on Syria as a positive step towards a political settlement and called on President Bashar al-Assad's government to "cease violence immediately".

China and Russia have twice used their powers as permanent Security Council members to veto resolutions on Syria, saying they were unbalanced and only sought regime change.

But following intense negotiations between the major powers, the two countries signed on to a peace plan by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan which calls on Assad to work toward a cessation of hostilities and a democratic transition.

"We call on the international community to support the mediation efforts by Annan, and create favorable conditions for his work," Li Baodong, China's permanent representative to the United Nations, told Xinhua state news agency.

"China hopes the Syrian government and the relevant parties to actively support and coordinate the good-office of Annan, cease violence immediately, reflect political will and launch political dialogue as soon as possible in order to achieve an early political settlement of the Syrian crisis."

The UN presidential statement, which carries less weight than a formal resolution, gives strong backing to a six-point plan that Annan put to Assad in talks in Damascus this month and gave a veiled warning of future international action.

While supporting Annan's efforts, Li once again stressed the Chinese standpoint that there should be no foreign military intervention in Syria, saying the Syrian people must determine their own affairs.

"China respects the choice of the Syrian people, supports peaceful, just and proper settlement of the Syrian crisis through political dialogues," he said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed the adoption of the statement by all parties, describing it as a "positive step".

"We think it is quite significant that we are now all united behind Kofi Annan's mission," she said.

The UN statement called on "the Syrian government and opposition to work in good faith with the envoy towards a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis".

The council also expressed its "full support" for Annan's efforts to facilitate a Syrian-led transition to a "democratic, plural political system".

China has denied that its vetoes of the UN Security Council resolutions were motivated by "self-interests".

But Chinese and Russian opposition to tough action against Assad has left major powers in deadlock on ways to end the bloodshed in Syria, where the UN says well over 8,000 people have been killed in the last year.