Syria is Russia's last remaining ally in the Middle East and has been a major customer of Soviet and Russian weapons industries for the last four decades, acquiring billions of dollars' worth of combat jets, helicopters, missiles, armored vehicles and other military gear.
Russia has joined with China at the U.N. Security Council to veto three resolutions that would have imposed sanctions on Assad's regime over its bloody crackdown on the uprising that began in March 2011. Moscow also has continued to provide the Syrian government with weapons despite strong international protests.
Asked if Beijing also foresees Assad's demise and whether it plans to evacuate its citizens in Syria, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it would take unspecified steps to protect Chinese nationals and appealed anew for a cease-fire and for a negotiated political transition.
"China is deeply worried about the continuing violent conflict in Syria and always believes that a diplomatic settlement to the Syrian issue is the only way out and also serves the shared interest of the international community," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a daily media briefing.
On Friday, the Pentagon announced it will send two batteries of Patriot missiles and 400 troops to Turkey as part of a NATO force to protect Turkish territory from potential Syrian missile attacks.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.