BEIJING: UN chief Ban Ki-moon held talks on Wednesday with Chinese President Hu Jintao as he seeks to press Beijing to back tougher action to stop violence in Syria hours ahead of a key Security Council vote.
Ban has already urged China to use its influence to back a peace plan by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who is calling on the Security Council to order “consequences” for any failure to carry out his six-point plan.
But it will be a difficult task for the UN secretary general to persuade Beijing to back a Western resolution renewing the UN mission in the country that calls for sanctions if the regime does not pull back heavy weapons.
China, one of five veto-wielding members of the Security Council, has twice joined with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main ally Russia in blocking resolutions critical of Damascus and has repeatedly warned against outside intervention in Syria.
“The life of Syria's current political leadership can only be determined by the Syrian people,” said the People's Daily, mouthpiece of the Communist Party, in an editorial on Tuesday.
“This is an internal matter and the international community should respect that.”Russia has branded as “blackmail” the bid to link renewal of the UN mission to the threat of sanctions, and has pledged to veto the resolution calling for sanctions.
It proposed a new draft on Tuesday which was rejected by Britain, France, the United States, Germany and Portugal, diplomats said. The Russian draft would renew the mission for three months, but would not back it up with international action.
“Barring a last minute surprise, we should now go for a vote on Wednesday and we expect a veto by Russia and China,” said the UN envoy of a Western nation.
The current 90-day UN mission in Syria ends on Friday and if no resolution is passed by then, it would have to shut down this weekend, according to diplomats.
Following talks with Hu, Ban will also meet Vice President Xi Jinping - set to become China's president next year - as well as top foreign policy advisor Dai Bingguo and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, diplomats said.
Ban, who is officially in Beijing for a China-Africa summit, has said that international inaction on Syria would be giving “a licence for further massacres”.
In Syria on Tuesday, troops blasted Damascus neighbourhoods with helicopter gunships and tank fire, witnesses said, after rebels announced an escalation of their battle for control of the capital.
Fighting between Assad's forces and rebels of the Free Syrian Army has raged in Damascus since Sunday, with some activists saying it marked a “turning point” in the 16-month revolt against the regime.
Special envoy Annan and UN leader Ban Ki-moon have both called for the Security Council to impose “consequences” if Assad and the Syrian opposition fail to carry out Annan's peace plan.
Russia insists that diplomatic pressure is enough. According to diplomats, President Putin spoke with China's President Hu Jintao at the weekend and the two agreed to oppose sanctions.