The United States and Europe are "harboring hegemonistic ambitions" in Syria, China's state news agency said Saturday, a day after Beijing was condemned at an international conference held to find a way to halt the Syrian regime's nearly year-old suppression of an anti-government uprising.

At the Friends of Syria meeting in Tunisia, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton blasted Russia and China as "despicable" for vetoing UN Security Council resolutions backing Arab League plans aimed at ending the conflict and condemning the crackdown by President Bashar Assad's government.

"They are clearly not on the side of the Syrian people," Clinton said.

The official Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary that China's position on Syria was balanced and that "most of the Arab countries have begun to realize that the United States and Europe are hiding a dagger behind a smile."

"In other words, while they appear to be acting out of humanitarian concern, they are actually harboring hegemonistic ambitions," it said.

Both China and Russia boycotted the Friends of Syria conference, which Xinhua said ended with a "broad consensus" on avoiding a militarization of the conflict in Syria.

The conference urged Assad to end the violence immediately and allow humanitarian aid into areas hit by his regime's crackdown. It also proposed tighter sanctions on the country and Assad's inner circle.

Calls and faxes to China's Foreign Ministry on Saturday asking for comment on Clinton's charges were not immediately answered.

Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at several news conferences this week that China wanted more information on the goals and mechanisms of the conference before it would attend.

Xinhua quoted him as saying China was a friend of the Syrian people, and that "any action taken by the international community should help to cease tensions, boost political dialogues, resolve differences and maintain peace and stability in the Middle East."

The UN estimated in January that 5,400 people have died in the conflict. Hundreds more have died since, with activists saying the death toll is more than 7,300.
Assad's regime blames the violence on terrorists and armed thugs, not people who want to reform the system.

China sent a vice foreign minister to Syria last week for talks. It says it vetoed the UN Security Council vote on Syria because it was called before differences over the proposal were bridged.