China is to send a military ship to help protect a specially adapted US vessel that will destroy Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, the foreign ministry said on Thursday.
Syria is due to hand over deadly toxins which can be used to make sarin, VX gas and other lethal agents under an international agreement forged after an attack on the outskirts of Damascus killed hundreds in August.
The chemicals will be destroyed on board the specially adapted US ship because they are too dangerous to import into any country. There is no agreement yet on where the ship will anchor while the work is carried out.
"China has decided to send a military ship to participate in the protection mission for the shipping of Syrian chemical weapons," ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.
She added that it was an "important move" to show China's support.
"China hopes that the relevant work on removing Syria's chemical weapons can be completed safely and smoothly. This will assist in pushing for a political resolution to the Syrian issue, will assist in increasing regional peace and stability and accords with the interest of all sides," Hua said.
China has repeatedly called for a political resolution. It has also called for a full and impartial investigation by UN chemical weapons inspectors and warned against pre-judging the results. It has said that anyone who uses chemical weapons should be held accountable.
Chemical weapons were likely used in five out of seven attacks investigated by UN experts in Syria, where a two-and-a-half-year civil war has killed more than 100,000 people, a UN report said last week.
The most serious use was on August 21, when hundreds of people were killed in a sarin gas attack in the outskirts of the capital, Damascus. The worst poison gas attack in a quarter of a century prompted the threat of missile strikes by the United States against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
A month-long tender for the commercial destruction of hundreds of tonnes of industrial chemicals and toxic waste from Syria's chemical weapons starts on Thursday, with contracts likely to go to a handful of firms.