Some say it wants to maintain its financial ties. It was ranked as Syria's third-largest importer in 2010, according to data from the European Commission.
"Beijing's renewed interest in Damascus -- the traditional terminus node of the ancient Silk Road ... indicates that China sees Syria as an important trading hub," according to a 2010 report from The Jamestown Foundation, a Washington-based research and analysis institute.
But there's a bigger factor at play.
China has said foreign countries shouldn't meddle in Syria's internal affairs -- and perhaps for good reason. China has had its own share of international controversies over its policies with Tibet as well as allegations of human rights violations.
Finally, China doesn't want to reprise what happened with Libya.
It abstained from a U.N. Security Council resolution on that one, clearing the way for a NATO military intervention in Libya.
"It was rather disappointed with the payoff," said Yun Sun of the Brookings Institution, writing in the East-West Center's Asia Pacific Bulletin. "Neither the West nor the NTC (Libyan National Transitional Council) showed much appreciation for China's abstention."
So, he says, China has "formulated a far more sophisticated hedging strategy" when it comes to Syria.
"Rather than siding with either Assad or the opposition and standing aside to 'wait and see,' Beijing is actively betting on both."
What's it saying:
China said it is firmly opposed to the use of chemical weapons and supports the U.N.'s chemical weapons inspectors.
It also said it wants a political solution for Syria -- though some say hopes for such an ending have waned.
"A political solution is always the only realistic means to resolve the Syria issue," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said.
Like Russia, China also walked out of Wednesday's U.N. Security Council meeting where Britain planned to pursue a resolution on Syria.
Why it matters:
China is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. And like Russia, China has repeatedly blocked sanctions attempts against the Syrian regime -- leading to a perpetual stalemate at the U.N. body to take any serious action on Syria.