BEIJING // China said yesterday it was forced to veto a United Nations vote on Syria because the vote was called before differences in the proposal were bridged. But the Chinese government denied playing spoiler and said it wants to see an end to the violence in Syria.
China and Russia have drawn the wrath of the US, Europe and much of the Arab world for the weekend veto, which the critics say blocked a UN attempt to end nearly 11 months of bloodshed and raises fears that the violence will escalate.
China says the resolution put undue emphasis on pressuring the Syrian government and prejudged the result of any dialogue between the parties in Syria.
The veto also appears to be rooted in China's deep-seated opposition to humanitarian interventions, which stems from its elevation of national sovereignty above all and concerns about its vulnerabilities over the restive western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet.
China's rare abstention last year from the UN vote over a Libyan no-fly zone was later regretted by Chinese diplomats, who said Nato far overstepped its mandate and pledged not to permit any UN measures that could lead to similar action over Syria.
The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Liu Weimin, said yesterday that the Security Council vote was forced before all parties had agreed on it.
"Such practices do not help maintain the unity and authority of the UN Security Council, nor does it help to properly solve the issues."
Mr Liu also rejected criticism that China was favouring the government of President Bashar Al Assad, whose regime has vowed to press its military crackdown, or that it was sticking it to the West.
"On the issue of Syria, China is not sheltering anyone nor do we intentionally oppose anyone. We uphold justice and take a responsible attitude," Mr Liu said.
Mr Liu said China supports further dialogue to end the violence, restore Middle East stability and realise the Syrian people's desire for political reform.
But he gave no specifics on what China would do to bring that about, and said he had no information on any plans by Beijing to send envoys to Syria as Russia is doing.
The veto appeared to do little to burnish China's image as a responsible major power - something noted even among Chinese commentators.
"Only China and Russia - those two regimes which always treat lives as if they were trifles - would be extremely indifferent to the lives of the Syrian people and vote no," the film critic and current-events writer Tan Fei wrote on his microblog.
Yet state media and government supporters strongly backed the move as the only responsible thing to do.
"The present situation in Syria is extremely complicated. To naively back one side, while attacking the other side, might look like bringing about a favourable turn, but is actually just laying up trouble ahead," the ruling Communist Party's official newspaper People's Daily said in a signed editorial.
The editor of another party newspaper, the Global Times, was even more pointed in his criticism of the West, suggesting the veto was at least partly inspired by a desire to snub Washington - despite the foreign ministry's denials.
"They have to be clearly aware of the fact that they are not the ruler of this planet. ... They can create another excuse to do their hegemony. China and Russia are not interested in standing on their side," Hu Xijin wrote on his microblog.