SHARJAH, United Arab Emirates - China's Premier Wen Jiabao said on Wednesday that Arab countries should be left to determine their political futures for themselves, but that popular will should be heeded in that process.
The comments came as Wen toured Gulf Arab states whose regional rival Iran is the target of tighter economic sanctions Washington wants to see enacted over its nuclear program.
They echoed an earlier, cautious acknowledgment of mass political upheaval that has swept the Middle East, and where the threat of further sanctions against Iran concerns China, the biggest customer for that country's oil exports.
"We maintain that the affairs of the region should be decided by the countries and the people themselves and their wish and aspirations for change should be respected," Wen said during a business conference with officials of the United Arab Emirates.
"We believe the difficulties Arab countries are facing will be temporary," he said. "We support countries in the region in choosing independently a development path suited to their national conditions."