BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Thursday that U.N. chemical weapons experts should be objective and "fully consult" with the Syrian government in their work, after Syria's opposition accused government forces of using such weapons in an attack on civilians.
With the death toll estimated at between 500 and 1,300, what would be the world's most lethal chemical weapons attack since the 1980s prompted an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York.
"China's position is very clear. It does not matter what side in Syria uses chemical weapons, China resolutely opposes it," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement send to Reuters in China's first public response to the attack.
"At present, the U.N's chemical weapons inspection team for Syria is on the ground beginning its investigations, and (China) hopes that the team fully consults with the Syrian government and maintains an objective, impartial and professional stance, to ascertain what really happened."
The Security Council did not explicitly demand a U.N. investigation, although it said "clarity" was needed and welcomed U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon's calls for a prompt investigation by the U.N. inspection team in Syria, led by Ake Sellstrom.
An earlier Western-drafted statement submitted to the council, seen by Reuters, was not approved. The final version of the statement was watered down to accommodate objections from Russia and China, diplomats said.
Moscow and Beijing have vetoed previous Western efforts to impose U.N. penalties on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
But China has been keen to show it is not taking sides and has urged the Syrian government to talk to the opposition and take steps to meet demands for political change. It has said a transitional government should be formed.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)