REPORTING FROM BEIJING -- The rift with China over Syria was thrown into sharp relief Saturday as Beijing mocked an international conference aimed at protecting the Syrian people against a brutal crackdown and accused the United States and Europe of "hiding a dagger behind a smile."
"In other words, while they appear to be acting out of humanitarian concern, they are actually harboring hegemonistic ambitions," said the editorial carried by the official Xinhua news agency.
The surprisingly harsh rhetoric dashed hopes that Beijing might be softening in its opposition to international action against the Syrian regime. China and Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the crackdown.
China and Russia were also conspicuously absent at an international conference called Friends of Syria, which is aiming to end the increasingly lethal crackdown by the Bashar Assad regime. On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton lashed out at China and Russia, calling their vetoes "despicable."
"They are clearly not on the side of the Syrian people," Clinton said.
Unlike Russia, which is the Syrian regime’s largest arms supplier, China has minimal economic interests in Syria, and so its hard line has been somewhat puzzling and frustrating to the Obama administration.
In the case of Libya, where China had extensive investments, Beijing quietly acquiesced to harsher measures against the regime by abstaining from, rather than vetoing, the U.N. resolution authorizing a no-fly zone that helped lead to Moammar Kadafi's ouster.
In recent statements, Chinese officials have repeated mantra-like their usual explanation -– that it is Beijing’s long-standing policy not to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs. But many analysts believe Beijing is also unnerved by the popular uprisings in the Middle East, which represent an implicit challenge to its own one-party rule.
-- Barbara Demick
Photo: An image grab from a video uploaded on YouTube on Saturday allegedly shows family members praying in front of a row of bodies in the Khalidiya district of the restive city of Homs. Credit: AFP / YouTube