BEIJING (AFP) - China has appointed its first special envoy to Syria, its foreign ministry said Tuesday (March 29), as the Asian nation seeks to increase its diplomatic footprint in the Middle East.
China depends on the volatile region for its oil supplies but has long taken a back seat in its disputes, only recently beginning to expand its role.
In recent months, Beijing has hosted high-level delegations from both the Syrian government and the opposition.
It consistently says the crisis needs a "political solution" but has four times vetoed UN Security Council measures aimed at addressing the conflict - the latest seeking the investigation of war crimes in the country.
Xie Xiaoyan, who has been China's ambassador to Iran, Ethiopia and the African Union, will be Beijing's new special envoy to Syria, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular briefing.
The appointment would help facilitate peace talks and "contribute Chinese wisdom and solutions" towards attempts to resolve the crisis, he said, reiterating that a political solution was the "only way out".
As Beijing's global heft and reach expands it has sought a more prominent role on the world stage, but its increasing involvement - and the growing number of Chinese businessmen and personnel working overseas - can also bring challenges.
In November, the Islamic State terrorist group - which holds swathes of Syrian territory - said it killed a Chinese hostage, publishing graphic pictures of his body.
It was unclear when, where, or how Fan Jinghui was killed, but Beijing's foreign ministry confirmed his "inhuman" death, vowing to bring his killers to justice.