BEIJING - China strongly opposes the use of military force against Iran or Syria, a senior diplomat said on Tuesday, warning that a war in the region will be a disaster both on a humanitarian level and for the world economy.
Chen Xiaodong, director-general of the Foreign Ministry's Department of West Asian and North African Affairs, also told China Daily that unilateral sanctions intensify the causes of conflict rather than resolve them.
Chen's remarks come a day after Vice-Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai told China-based foreign reporters that sanctions alone cannot solve the Iran dispute and stressed that normal trade relations and energy cooperation between China and Iran have nothing to do with the nuclear issue.
The diplomats were speaking against the backdrop of rising tension between Iran and the West over the purpose of Teheran's nuclear program.
US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, allegedly, to seek support from China for US sanctions on Teheran's oil industry.
"We prefer negotiation and dialogue in resolving conflict between countries," Chen said. "We oppose the use of military force against Iran as it is against international law to use force on a sovereign country."
Chen made the remarks during an interview with the China Daily website, the third in a series with senior officials of the ministry.
Against repeated threats of an oil embargo from the European Union and increasing financial sanctions from the US, Iran has recently threatened to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
The US warned that closing the strait is a red line that Iran should think twice before crossing.
Chen said a war in the region would be a disaster for the countries involved and depress the global economy as 40 percent of oil shipments pass through the strait.
"We also oppose some countries who unilaterally impose sanctions on Iran," he said, adding that sanctions do not solve the causes of conflict but intensify them.
"China will stick to the UN resolution regarding sanctions on Iran, but unilateral sanctions by some countries have harmed those that have normal trade relations with Iran," he added.
Gao Zugui, researcher with the Research Institute for International Strategic Studies, said China and the US have different positions and interests regarding Iran, making it difficult to reach consensus.
Jin Canrong, deputy dean of the School of International Relations at Renmin University of China, said China has proven its constant principles and stance on Iranian issues.
"China previously voted for sanctions on several companies and individuals that might be related to nuclear weapons research," he said. "But increasing sanctions will inevitably harm Iranian civilians and Iran's normal trade interests with other countries."
Chen said China supports the nuclear non-proliferation system and opposes Iran developing nuclear weapons, but he stressed that the right of Iran to use nuclear power peacefully should be respected.
Chen said China welcomes Iran's move to restart nuclear negotiations and urged relevant parties to ensure regional peace and stability.
Chen also emphasized that China is strongly against countries doing a "Libya" on Syria as it would be disastrous for the region.
"China supports the Arab League's mediation because it is a relatively feasible way of resolving Syrian issues under the current situation," he said. China is against any military intervention in the country, he said.
An inclusive political dialogue and negotiation among the parties in Syria is the key to the crisis and also the key to peace and stability in the Middle East considering Syria's pivotal geographic position, Chen said.
Wu Jiao contributed to this story.