China's foreign ministry refused Tuesday to interpret a report by United Nations weapons inspectors on a sarin gas attack in Syria, while Chinese state media chimed in with Russia's assertion that the report didn't prove the attack had been carried out by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
Britain, France, and the U.S., the other three permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, all said on Monday that the report demonstrated that the regime had perpetrated the attack. The Kremlin said Tuesday it suspects rebel forces were behind it.
Beijing will have a "serious look" at the report, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular news briefing on Tuesday.
He added: "The relevant investigation should be carried out by the U.N. investigation team on an impartial, professional, and independent basis."
U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-moon has condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria as a "war crime" after U.N. experts gathered evidence that surface-to-surface rockets took sarin gas into the opposition-held Damascus suburb of Ghouta on Aug. 21.
But he declined to name any perpetrator.
China has repeatedly said that it opposes armed intervention by foreign powers in Syria, and typically draws back from actions that could constitute "interference in the internal affairs" of another country.
However, Beijing's permanent U.N. representative Liu Jieyi on Monday condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria, calling on the international community to work harder for a political solution to the crisis in Syria.
"China firmly opposes and strongly condemns any use of chemical weapons," said Liu, who called for an end to the bloodshed.
Chinese netizens gave a mixed reaction on Tuesday to Beijing's role in the crisis.
"China always comes across as indecisive in international situations," wrote user @xiyushizuzhong on the popular Twitter-like service Sina Weibo. "If they really want to raise high the banner of a crackdown on rumors, they should behave with a bit more courage."
Meanwhile, user @rushengnuomenghuan added: "Whatever happened to 'no interference in the internal affairs of other countries'?"
Many took issue with a widely circulating news report that the U.S., Russia, France, and Britain were continuing talks on the Syrian crisis, apparently omitting the fifth permanent member of the security council, China.
"China has a population of 1.3 billion ... Couldn't they find someone with nothing to do to send over there and represent the country in discussions?" wrote a user identified by cell phone account number 2729112420.
Some comments appeared to lean in favor of some form of intervention in Syria.
"Only a people that takes the suffering of another people to heart as its own can have any hope [for the future]," tweeted user @libaiyao.
User @xiaoxiaofenti agreed. "Let's wipe out anti-human dictatorships and violent fascist regimes! The civilized way forward for the whole of humanity is peace, freedom, rule of law, and constitutional government."
"The Syria crisis is a test of the justice and humanity of all the governments in the world," user @longlongrui wrote. "It will become the benchmark for whether or not crimes against humanity are deemed acceptable."
Other tweeters focused on China's relatively low-key role in the U.N. Security Council, as most news reports focused on the debate between Russia and the other three permanent members.
"What should China do?" wrote user @jwj3855. "Carry on vetoing, and oppose the rest of the world."
"Otherwise, there will be fewer and fewer brother dictators in the world!"
Others saw the crisis as a chance for Beijing to make its mark on world politics, as a counterweight to U.S. power and influence.
"Everyone says the United Nations is the lackey of the American imperialists, and that they never found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but no one said they should be punished," wrote user @dabaishaguobing.