China does not approve of armed intervention or regime change in Syria, a senior official said on Thursday before embarking on a trip to Syria as China's first envoy there since it blocked a U.N. resolution calling for Syria's president to step down.

The West and many in the Arab world scolded China for its veto this month of a draft U.N. Security Council resolution urging President Bashar al-Assad to quit after months of bloodshed between Syrian forces and protesters demanding reform.

China said it was simply trying to prevent more violence and was acting in accordance with the U.N. charter, but it later sent two junior envoys to the Middle East to explain its position.

(China) does not approve of the use of force to interfere in Syria or the forceful pushing of a so-called regime change, the Foreign Ministry cited Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun as saying on its website (www.fmprc.gov.cn).

Zhai, who will travel to Syria on Friday and Saturday, said China believed that sanctions or the threat of sanctions are not conducive to the appropriate resolution of this issue.

The Foreign Ministry did not give details of Zhai's agenda or who he would meet. Last week, Zhai met a Syrian opposition delegation in Beijing.

The trip, a step up in China's efforts to mediate the crisis, comes days after it warned that Western powers should tread carefully at the United Nations in dealing with Syria, or risk worsening violence.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao vowed this week to work through the United Nations to seek an end to the strife.

Zhai's trip follows one by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who days after the veto travelled to Damascus as the United States shut its embassy and European countries recalled their envoys.

We urge the Syrian government and all of its political parties to immediately and fully end all acts of violence and quickly restore stability and normal social order, Zhai said.

TANGLED MESS

Imad Mustafa, Syria's former ambassador to the United States, now ambassador to China, said in an interview with China's Xinhua news agency this week that any Chinese envoy would be warmly welcomed.

Last week Russia's foreign minister visited Syria and in Damascus about 2 million people holding Russian flags turned out to greet him and say 'thank you'. If Chinese officials also pay a visit there, there would be even more Syrian people there to greet them, he said.

China's ruling Communist Party mouthpiece, the People's Daily, said in a commentary foreign meddling in Syria risked stirring up a hornets' nest of instability in the Middle East, which could shock markets and derail a weak global economy.

The political ecology in the Middle East is extremely frail, a tangled mess of thousands of years of ethnic and religious conflict, the People's Daily said on Thursday.

World powers must realise this and handle bloodshed in Syria and Middle East tension with a sense of realism, it said, noting that the spread of conflict would be a catastrophe in a crucial phase of global economic recovery.

The Middle East is the world's most important fuel depot. If gripped by chaos, oil prices would skyrocket, shocking the stock market, financial systems and economies, the paper said.

The author used the pen name Zhong Sheng, which can mean voice of China and is often used to give government positions on foreign policy.

The People's Daily said the United States wanted to establish a friendly government in Syria to counter the influence of its old enemy in the region, Iran.

Once Syria sets up a pro-Western regime, Iran will lose important backing, it said.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)