More assertive China
Beijing’s veto, along with that of Moscow, of a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria reflects a more assertive China in contrast with an earlier period in which the Chinese would simply go along with the majority by abstaining.
As the Global Times, an official English-language daily, said in a commentary: “In past years, despite strong opposition against certain UNSC resolution, China has often abstained, allowing what it was against to happen. That era is gone.”
The vote on Feb. 4 marks a clear departure from the policy a year ago, when China, along with Russia, Germany, Brazil and India, abstained on a U.N. resolution calling for the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya and authorizing “all necessary measures” to “protect civilians.”
The 10 other members of the Security Council, including South Africa, all voted for the resolution.
Subsequently, China and Russia both cried foul and accused NATO of going beyond the terms of the resolution to help the rebels overthrow the government of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
Asked why China did not veto the Libya resolution, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi responded: “Taking into account the concerns and positions of the Arab countries and the Arab League and the special situation in Libya at that time, China joined some other countries to vote in abstention.”
This reflected the importance that China attached to regional organizations. There was a feeling that while China should not interfere in the internal affairs of a country, it was different if a regional body of which that country was a member took action. Thus, on the Sudan issue, China gave weight to the position of the African Union.
This time, however, even though the draft U.N. Security Council resolution, which condemned “all violence, irrespective of where it comes from,” was sponsored by Morocco on behalf of the Arab League, China vetoed the resolution while insisting that it “supported the Arab League’s ‘good office’ efforts to restore stability in Syria.”
While still paying lip service to the Arab League, China has clearly decided that it would make its own decisions where its interests are concerned.
BRICS solidarity, too, has vanished. While China and Russia voted against the Syria resolution, fellow members India and South Africa both supported it.
China is in danger of isolation not only from the West but from other developing countries as well by jumping into bed with Russia.
Interestingly, the Global Times commentary declared that the joint veto “does not hint at a possible China-Russia alliance.” But it went on to say that “if the West is not willing to see the two move closer, it should not force their hand.”
Clearly, a much closer Sino-Russian relationship is being held out as a possibility ― and as a warning to the West.
China feels that its abstention last year resulted in the installation of a regime in Libya which feels indebted to the West for its very existence and with which China is not on the best of terms, especially after the discovery that Beijing was discussing arms sales to Gadhafi even after a U.N. arms embargo on Libya.
While China was not especially close to Libya’s Gadhafi or to Syria’s Assad, it is wary of any Security Council resolution against a government for acting against its own people. After all, Beijing is painfully aware that it could become the target of future resolutions for events in China, including in Tibet and Xinjiang.
The Chinese explanation for the veto was that the Syrian crisis can and should be solved by the Syrians themselves instead of external forces.
China proposed a so-called “third path” for Syria and hosted a delegation of Syrian opposition members to demonstrate that it could communicate with both sides.
Certainly, China should be encouraged to use its diplomatic influence to bring about a halt to the fighting and the slaughter of civilians in Syria.
If China can broker a compromise with the various Syrian parties, then the world’s hat would be off to Beijing and its veto in the Security Council would be seen as wise and necessary.
But if in the coming weeks and months China is unable to pull a bunny out of its hat and the bloodshed in Syria continues ― as it has continued since the veto ― then China will find it increasingly difficult to fashion a fig leaf to hide behind.
Frank Ching is a journalist and commentator based in Hong Kong. E-mail the writer at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FrankChing1.