AMMAN/BEIRUT (Reuters) - China said on Sunday it believed a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis was still possible as any armed intervention would only spread turmoil through the region, but Britain's foreign minister said he feared Syria will slide into civil war.The comments were published by the official Xinhua news agency a day after a Chinese envoy met with President Bashar al-Assad and thousands demonstrated the heart of Damascus in one of the biggest anti-government rallies there since an uprising started nearly a year ago.
A leading Syrian businessman, meanwhile, said the Assad government was slowly disintegrating and might only last six months more.
China has emerged as a leading player in the multiple international efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria and is sympathetic to Assad.
"China believes, as many others do, there is still hope the Syria crisis can be resolved through peaceful dialogue between the opposition and the government, contrary to some Western countries' argument that time is running out for talks in Syria," Xinhua said.
It also criticized the West's stance on Syria, highlighting differences between foreign powers over how to deal with the conflict.
The West was "driven less by their self-proclaimed 'lofty goal' of liberalizing the Syrian people than by geopolitical considerations," Xinhua said.
"Blood is still being shed in Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan, where foreign forces have intervened and come to 'help'."
The words might bring a measure of comfort to Assad, who is now generally reviled in the West for a crackdown in which his security forces have killed several thousand people.
China and Russia infuriated Western and Arab states this month by blocking a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that backed an Arab plan urging Assad to halt the repression and surrender power.
They also voted against a similar, non-binding U.N. General Assembly resolution that was overwhelmingly passed this week.
The United States, Europe, Turkey and Gulf-led Arab states have all demanded Assad quit power.
The West has ruled out any Libya-style military intervention but the Arab League, spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, has indicated some of its member states were prepared to arm the opposition, which includes the rebel Free Syrian Army.
British Foreign Minister William Hague reiterated that view on Sunday, telling the BBC: "We cannot intervene in the way we did in Libya ... we will do many other things."
"I am worried that Syria is going to slide into a civil war and that our powers to do something about it are very constrained because, as everyone has seen, we have not been able to pass a resolution at the U.N. Security Council because of Russian and Chinese opposition."
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun met Assad in Damascus on Saturday and backed his new plan for a referendum and multi-party elections within four months - a move the West and some in Syria's fragmented opposition movement have dismissed as a sham.
Zhai also appealed to all sides to end the violence. But even as he spoke to Assad, security forces opened fire on a demonstration by thousands of people in the middle-class Mezze district, according to opposition activists.
The opposition Local Coordination Committees said security forces killed 14 people in Damascus and other parts of the country on Saturday, including five in the opposition stronghold of Homs. None of the figures could be verified independently.
The Damascus protest indicated the movement against Assad, who has ruled Syria for 11 years after succeeding his father Hafez on his death, has not been cowed by the repression and embraces a wide range of Syrian society.
Assad, who belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, in a majority Sunni country, says he is fighting foreign-backed terrorists.
A leading Syrian businessman, Faisal al-Qudsi, said the government was slowly disintegrating and foreign sanctions were ruining the economy.
Qudsi told the BBC in London military action could only last six months but Assad's government would fight to the end.
"The army is getting tired and will go nowhere," he said. "They will have to sit and talk or at least they have to stop killing. And the minute they stop killing, more millions of people will be on the streets. So they are in a Catch-22."
Qudsi, who was involved in Syria's economic liberalization, told the BBC the apparatus of government was almost non-existent in trouble spots like Homs, Idlib and Deraa.
Government forces bombarded Homs again on Saturday. The western city, strategically sited on the highway between Damascus and commercial hub Aleppo, has been under siege for more than two weeks and a humanitarian crisis is unfolding as food and medical supplies to treat the wounded are running short.
Rockets, artillery and sniper fire have killed several hundred people, according to activists' reports, but the security forces have held back from a full invasion of opposition held districts. Residents fear a bloodbath should that take place.
(Additional reporting by Peter Griffiths; Editing by Sophie Hares)