AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
BEIJING: Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun called on all sides in Syria to stop the violence and elections to go ahead peacefully after Damascus talks with President Bashar al-Assad Saturday, state media said.
"The position of China is to call on the government, the opposition and the rebels to halt acts of violence immediately," Zhai said, adding that it was vital that "calm be restored as quickly as possibly as that serves the interests of the Syrian people."
"We hope that the referendum on a new constitution as well as the forthcoming parliamentary elections pass off calmly," state television quoted him as saying.
On Thursday, Syrian opposition groups rejected a newly drafted constitution that could end nearly five decades of single-party rule, and urged voters to boycott a February 26 referendum on the charter.
One of them, the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, told AFP "it is impossible for us to take part in this referendum before a stop to the violence and killings."
Zhai's meeting with Assad followed talks with his counterpart, Faisal Meqdad, late on Friday after which he said the international community must respect Syria's sovereignty.
"We exchanged views on ways to strengthen our cooperation in the face of this difficult period in Syria," said Zhai, whose government has twice joined Moscow in blocking UN Security Council condemnation of the Damascus regime's deadly crackdown on an 11-month uprising.
"The sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Syria must be respected by all sides and by the international community," the official Syrian Arab News Agency quoted him as saying.
"China hopes that national dialogue and reforms will move forward in Syria," he added.
On Thursday, before heading to Damascus, Zhai said Beijing opposed armed intervention and forced "regime change" in Syria.
China and Russia have faced a barrage of criticism for blocking action by the UN Security Council, including from Arab nations with which Beijing normally has good ties.
"We urge the Syrian government and all of its political parties to immediately and fully end all acts of violence and quickly restore stability and normal social order," said Zhai.
"China condemns all acts of violence against innocent civilians" and "does not approve of armed intervention or forcing so-called 'regime change,'" he was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.
Foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters Zhai would "exchange views with the Syrian government and parties concerned in Syria on the current ... situation to push for a peaceful and proper resolution of the ... crisis."