China urged Sudan on Monday to be "more flexible" on a plan put forward by former UN chief Kofi Annan to bolster peacekeeping operations in the war-torn western region of Darfur.
"China appreciates Sudan's efforts in restoring peace in Darfur but is expecting more flexibility on the Annan plan," Chinese envoy Zhai Jun told reporters in Khartoum.
Annan last year floated a plan for the United Nations to prop up the embattled African Union peacekeeping contingent in Darfur but Khartoum has stalled, arguing it would amount to the deployment of Western troops on its soil.
"There is no fundamental contradiction between Sudanese fears and the Annan plan," the Chinese foreign ministry official said as he wrapped up a three-day visit to Sudan.
The international community has urged China to start using its economic leverage to put pressure on Khartoum over Darfur, where four years of US-backed diplomacy have failed to stem the bloodshed.
According to the United Nations, at least 200,000 people have been killed and more than two million displaced in Darfur since the fighting erupted in February 2003. Some sources say the death toll is much higher.
China is the leading foreign investor in Sudan, absorbs almost two thirds of its oil output and has repeatedly shielded Khartoum from UN sanctions.
Implementation of the Annan plan has already started but differences have emerged over the third and final phase, which is supposed to lead to a joint -- or "hybrid" -- peacekeeping force grouping AU and UN troops.
"We hope our Sudanese friends will accept this plan. The name of the force, joint or hybrid, is not important," said Zhai.
His comments came as Sudanese, AU and UN officials were due to meet in Addis Ababa on Monday to discuss the exact nature of UN support for the 7,000-strong African contingent currently deployed in Darfur.