Zhang Jun (C, front), China's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, speaks after the Security Council adopted a resolution to extend the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) for one year, at the UN headquarters in New York, on Sept. 17, 2019. Zhang Jun on Tuesday stated his country's position on the renewal of the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). (Xinhua/Li Muzi)
By Hong Xiao at the United Nations
UN envoy calls for cessation of hostilities to prevent worsening of situation
China is "greatly concerned" over the situation in northeast Syria and is calling on Turkey to stop military operations there to avoid making the humanitarian situation worse, Zhang Jun, China's permanent representative to the United Nations, said on Wednesday.
Zhang laid out China's position on northeast Syria while meeting with the media after Security Council internal consultations at the UN headquarters in New York.
"Syria's sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity should be respected and safeguarded," he said, adding that a political settlement is the only way out, and military means "will lead nowhere".
Turkey's weeklong offensive against Kurdish-controlled areas of northeastern Syria has displaced more than 300,000 people, according to Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Dozens of civilians - mostly on the Kurdish side - have been killed since the start of the offensive, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has refused to halt despite mounting international pressure.
The situation in Syria worsened when the United States abruptly announced plans to withdraw its forces from northern Syria. Turkey then launched an attack on the Syrian Kurdish fighters, who were a key partner of the US in defeating the Islamic State.
Ankara views Syria's main Kurdish force, the People's Protection Units, or YPG, as a "terrorist" offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which has waged an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.
Zhang said China is calling on Turkey to stop the military operation and return to the track of a political settlement, and urges the country "to take up its responsibility and work with other countries to jointly fight terrorism".
During the UN consultations on Wednesday, the council listened to briefings by Mohamed Khaled Khiari, UN assistant secretary-general for Asia and the Pacific, and Mark Lowcock, under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs.
Jerry Matjila, president of the Security Council and permanent representative of South Africa to the UN, said that the council members expressed deep concern over the risks of the dispersion of terrorists, including from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, and over a further deterioration in the humanitarian situation.
Zhang told the media that the unilateral military operation by Turkey has made the situation more complex and fragile and worsened the counterterrorism situation in Syria, which could result in ISIL staging a comeback and posing a threat to peace and security in Syria, the Middle East and even the wider world.
He said China opposes the use of force in international relations, and believes that all parties should observe the principles of the UN Charter and the basic norms governing international relations, and resolve problems through political and diplomatic means under the framework of international law.
Meanwhile, US Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo departed for Turkey on Wednesday, seeking to secure a cease-fire in the Turkey-Syria conflict.
"Our mission is to see if we can get a cease-fire, see if we can get this brokered," Pompeo told reporters on his plane.
Pence and Pompeo, who traveled on different planes, were scheduled to hold talks on Thursday with Erdogan, but the Turkish leader has said he will not meet them.
US President Donald Trump on Wednesday said that the US was "going to try to work it out" with Turkey, with regard to its assault on northeastern Syria, but US sanctions would be "devastating" if discussions with Ankara do not go well.
Liu Xuan in Beijing, AFP and Reuters contributed to this story.