FEBRUARY 24 2012 06:29h

China not attending Syria conference

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BEIJING, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- China announced it will not attend the Friends of Syria conference in Tunisia as it needs to study more about the meeting.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing needs to know more about the aim, effect and mechanism of the conference, and that it has no idea about the preparations for the event, opening Friday in Tunis, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

"China supports all efforts that are conducive to peacefully and properly resolving the Syrian issue," Hong said, adding his country is a friend of the Syrian and Arab people, Xinhua reported.

He said China hopes to work with all concerned parties to play a positive and constructive role in the process, adding any action taken by the international community should help end the tensions and boost political dialogues.

At the U.N. Security Council this month, China and Russia vetoed a resolution condemning the violence in Syria and supporting an Arab League plan asking Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down. China said the resolution had demanded a regime change.

A similar resolution was later adopted in the General Assembly with overwhelming support.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun, who visited Syria last week, said China supports efforts by the Arab League for a political solution to the Syrian issue, Xinhua reported.

Representatives from more than 70 countries and various groups were expected at the Tunis conference designed to help lead Syria toward democracy. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was scheduled to attend.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters the United States plans to talk about getting humanitarian assistance to places in Syria where it is most needed. He said critical to this objective is the Syrian regime allowing humanitarian groups to get to those places.

"Look, we're no different than we were after the U.N. Security Council vote, where two countries isolated themselves and the rest of the world spoke out in support of the Syrian people," Toner said about China's decision not to attend the conference. "After that vote, we stated our intention to move forward with this Friends of Syria group, and that's what we're doing."

Toner said it was necessary for the international community "to speak with one voice on Syria, certainly."