China chooses restraint in Syrian conflict | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 11.09.2013
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China chooses restraint in Syrian conflict

China has adopted a 'wait and see' approach on the Syrian conflict. Beijing's actions are determined by strategic interests and the 'principle' of non-interference.

Just as everyone believed that a US-led military strike was imminent, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced that Syria could avoid intervention by handing over its stockpiles of chemical weapons to the international community within a week. The statement was followed shortly by Russia's call on Syria to place these weapons under international control and then destroy them.

The proposal was welcomed by many countries including China. On Tuesday, September 10, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei urged other nations to study the proposal so that it contributes to lowering tensions, finding a political solution and creating stability in Syria and the region.

Syrian President Bashar Assad addressing the Syrian Parliament members during the first parliamentary session, in Damascus, Syria, 03 June 2012. (Photo: EPA)

China and Russia have blocked resolutions to impose sanctions on the regime of Bashar al-Assad

China has always advocated a political solution to the conflict and opposed military intervention. Although the Chinese have repeatedly invited delegates of the Assad regime and the opposition to Beijing for talks, this hasn't resulted in any concrete results. Robert Daly, a China expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center told DW he believes China wants to avoid the issue of military intervention by repeating well-sounding principles, "which won't keep Assad from using chemical weapons."

China and Russia in tandem

Over the past few months, Beijing and Moscow have often had similar views on Syria. As permanent members of the UN Security Council they have vetoed resolutions aimed at imposing sanctions against the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Middle East is of great importance for China's energy security. In the first seven months of 2013, the world's second largest economy imported some 83 million tons of crude oil from the region - almost half of China's total oil imports in this period. Gu Xuewu, political scientist at the German-based Center for Global Studies, is convinced that Beijing coordinates its UN policy with Russia.

The reasons behind this strategy, he argues, are China's demand for Russian energy as well as a common interest in Central Asia. Both countries, he added, form a sort of "anti-Westem alliance" aimed at counteracting the international influence of the US and its allies.

Gu points out that Beijing has neither the will nor the capability to get involved in the conflict. "China doesn't think a great deal of imposing international sanctions coupled with military measures in order to pressurize certain governments", he said. "For decades the guiding principle of Beijing's foreign policy has been to not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries," Gu told DW.

No military engagement

Experts argue China is not interested in a military solution to the crisis, as it is not able to play the role of the world's policeman.

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari, left, speaks to Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, center, and China's deputy U.N. Ambassador Wang Min before the United Nations General Assembly passed a draft resolution condemning Syria at the United Nations on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012. (Photo: AP)

Experts say China has long followed an approach on non-interference

Although Chinese soldiers have taken part in UN peacekeeping missions and fought pirates off the Somali coast, it is "out of the question" for China to become militarily as active in the region as the US and its partners, said Yin Gang, Middle East expert at the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences. If there is stability that's good for China, and if there is chaos that is bad for China. But China does not have the ability to maintain stability there," Yin told Reuters news agency.

This is also the reason why Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said before the start of the G20 leaders' meeting last week: "Economic growth is already slow," said Zhu, adding that a military strike could further upset investors. "Military action would have a negative impact on the global economy especially on the oil price."