The worsening Syria conflict has exposed an uncomfortable truth behind China's cherished policy of non-interference: Beijing cannot do much to influence events even if it wanted to.
With weak and untested military forces unable to project power in the Middle East, China can only play a low-key role in a region that is crucial for its energy security.
As the United States and its allies gear up for a probable military strike on Syria, raising fears of a regional conflagration, China remains firmly on the sidelines, despite it having much more at stake than some other big powers.
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The Middle East is China's largest source of crude oil. Without it, the world's second-largest economy would shudder to a halt. In the first seven months of this year, China imported about 83 million tonnes of crude from the region, half its total, with top suppliers including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
China has few economic interests in Syria itself but believes it has a strategic and diplomatic imperative to ensure Middle East stability and to protect a vital energy source.
Retired Major General Luo Yuan, one of China's most outspoken military figures, told the official People's Daily last year that with so much oil at stake "we cannot think that the issues of Syria and Iran have nothing to do with us".
China insists it is neither backing nor protecting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying it only vetoed U.N. resolutions it thought would worsen the crisis. Beijing has also hosted both government and opposition officials in an attempt to find a political solution, albeit with few results.