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Chinese diplomat urges US, Russia to resume Syria talks

Associated Press Associated Press 4/11/2016 By GERRY SHIH, Associated Press

BEIJING — China will expand its involvement in political efforts to end the fighting in Syria, but limit its direct participation to providing humanitarian aid, a senior Chinese diplomat said Friday.

Special envoy to Syria Xie Xiaoyuan urged the United States and Russia to resume talks, less than a week after Russian officials said the political process would be "postponed indefinitely."

"China has expressed repeatedly that the issue can only be resolved through political settlement and that military means will lead nowhere," Xie told reporters in Beijing. "We call on the United States and Russia to make efforts to resume their consultation on the cease-fire."

China, he added, could be a "widely valued and trusted" player in the multilateral talks.

Syria is the latest conflict in which China has shown a desire to play a more active diplomatic role.

China's growing engagement in the region attracted particular notice in August after a top People's Liberation Army officer met with Syrian and Russian officials in Damascus to discuss Chinese cooperation.

Xie said those meetings were nothing more than normal military exchanges focused on humanitarian issues.

Although China has rejected the possibility of engaging militarily, it has consistently offered diplomatic support for Russia, an increasingly close strategic partner. China voted alongside Russia against a Western-backed United Nations cease-fire proposal last month and it has characterized Russia's bombing offensive in Aleppo — condemned by the West as a series of deadly attacks on civilians — as a legitimate campaign against terror targets.

China has said in recent years that it faces fallout from the Syria conflict in the form of ethnic Uighur separatists hailing from its western Xinjiang region who seek to establish a breakaway Islamic state called East Turkistan. Chinese officials frequently argue that the reported presence of several hundred Uighur militants fighting alongside al-Qaeda-linked groups like al-Nusra in Syria underscores its security risks and justifies Beijing's heavy-handed policing measures in Xinjiang, which have been criticized by human rights groups.

"We should fight terrorism indiscriminately, wherever it exists," Xie said. "We need to particularly fight the terrorist organizations listed by the U.N. including the Islamic State, al-Nusra and the East Turkistan Islamic Movement."

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