“Lonely Figure”: What Does the Syrian Opposition’s Visit to China mean?

China’s veto at the UN security council must have come as a disappointment for Syria’s opposition, wrote Shan Ren (壮图山人的人民博客 – Hermit, or lonely figure, or fortune-teller, living on a mountain), a People’s Daily “blogger”1), in a post on February 9.

But despite the veto, the reception of a Syrian opposition2) delegation by deputy foreign minister Zhai Jun (in charge of Mideastern and African affairs) had still shown China’s flexibility, and had done away with a long-standing misunderstanding (or a misleading neutralism, 中立主义误区):

One could say that China has become smarter by the Libyan experience, and has learned – on the wheel – to steer more flexibly. China’s diplomacy wasn’t forceful enough, and owing to a rigid neutralist position, it didn’t communicate well and in time with Libya’s opposition, even if it didn’t provide any help to Gaddafi, either. This didn’t only put Western countries into a position to make use of early opportunities, and didn’t only leave a positive impression on Libya’s opposition parties, but when interests were distributed in Libya after the war, they firmly kept the initiative in rebuilding the country, and China scored rather poorly, politically. Apart from not gaining the new political power’s protection of the benefits gained during the Gaddafi era, it didn’t also correspondingly lost the right to speak in the reconstruction of Libya, and gained only few benefits.
可以说在经过利比亚事件的历练之后,中国的外交手段开始驾轻就熟,变得更加圆滑,富有更多的灵活机动。在利比亚问题上,中国的外交处理发生显得缺乏足够的张力,由于中立主义的惯性思维,中国虽然没有向卡扎菲提供任何援助,但是也没有很好地及时和利比亚反对派进行沟通。这样不但让西方国家在利比亚占尽了先机,赢得了利比亚反对派对他们的好感,从而是西方国家在利比亚战后的利益分配中,牢牢的掌握了重建利比亚的主动权,而且中方由于在利比亚反对派方面失去了不少政治得分,除了卡扎菲时代取得的利益没有得到新政权的保护损失惨重之外,在重建利比亚方面,也失去了相应的发言权,因而获利甚微。

In the new situation, China paid a high tuition fee for this painful lesson. On the Syrian issue, China adjusted its traditionally predominant method, and showed more initiative and involvement, actively guiding the international community to produce correct plans which are conducive for a solution of the Syrian problem. In its contacts with the Syrian opposition, not only Chinese high-ranking officials communicated with the opposition, but when the Syrian opposition visited China, China broke with convention and sent the deputy foreign minister, to give them a high-level reception. This move made the Syrian opposition feel the importance attached to them by the Chinese side, and helped China to score substantially, in political terms.
这一惨痛的教训成为了中国在新形势下的外交上付出的巨额学费。在叙利亚问题上,中国调整了以往一边倒的做法,处处表现出主动介入的姿态,积极引导国际社会做出有利于解决叙利亚问题的正确方案。在与反对派的接触中,中方不仅派出高官与反对派进行沟通,在叙利亚反对派代表团访华时,还打破常规,派出外交部副部长,进行高规格的接待。这些举动让叙利亚反对派感受了中方对他们的重视,从而为中方在叙利亚反对派方面获得了不少政治得分。

Having demonstrated China’s principled stance to the Syrian opposition (of averting harm to the civilian population, among others) had made the opposition hear the real meaning of China’s stance, which was that China neither supported the Syrian authorities’ violent methods, and that China had no doubts about the Syrian opposition’s sincerity. A basis for mutual trust and and communication had thus been built. This created conditions that would allow China to be listened to by future Syrian political power, according to the “blogpost”.

中方向叙利亚反对派阐述了在叙利亚问题上的原则立场,强调中方高度关注叙利亚局势发展,呼吁叙利亚当局等有关各方立即停止一切暴力,采取切实措施缓解紧张局势,避免平民伤亡。这一点就让叙利亚反对派听出了中国的言外之意,也就是中国并不支持叙利亚官方的暴力手段,叙利亚反对派也就没有必要怀疑中国在对待反对派方面的诚意,从而建立起在互信基础上的互动与沟通。这也就为中国在未来的叙利亚政权中拥有一席之地创造了必要条件。

China believes that the Syrian people’s reasonable demands for change and protection of interests should be respected. The Syrian government should conscientiously make its promised reforms happen, and should as soon as possible start a tolerant political process with broad participation, to solve differences and contradictions through dialog and through consultations. Clearly, this is a Chinese attitude which, concerning the Syrian problem, does its best to satisfy the opposition. At least to some extent, China has acknowledged the Syrian opposition’s reasonable and legitimate existence, and also laid out a roadmap for the Syrian authorities, for the realization of a peaceful political solution. If the Syrian authorities can still not fulfill the opposition’s demands, China will have done everything possible, and of course, the opposition has a free hand to work energetically.
中方认为,叙利亚人民要求变革及维护自身利益的合理诉求应受到尊重。叙利亚政府应切实兑现改革承诺,尽快开启各方广泛参与的包容性政治进程,通过对话和协商解决分歧与矛盾。很显然这已经是中国在叙利亚问题上最令反对派心满意足的表态。至少一点,中国已经肯定了叙利亚反对派的合理与合法存在,同时为叙利亚官方画出了实现政治和解的路线图。如果叙利亚官方不能达到反对派的诉求,中方也已经做得仁至义尽,反对派当然可以放手大干了。

Above all, China had made it clear that it was nobody’s protector in Syria, that it wasn’t sedulously opposing anyone there either, but that it was a  friend of the entire Syrian people, writes Shan Ren. Without selfish interests, China protected the Syrian people’s fundamental interests, peace and stability in the Middle East, and the norms of international relations as the starting point and foothold. One can say that China’s voice has clarified its relationship with Syria’s officialdom [another, probably more literal, translation could be "claimed its innocence", 撇清], and returned to what the international community should see as the core issue, i. e. the protection of the Syrian masses’ interests. However, Syria’s authorities can’t help but acknowledge China’s attitude either, given that it styles itself to represent the entire Syrian people’s interests. In such a way, China has safeguarded a maximum say on the Syrian issue, and effectively protected its existing interests [or benefits] in Syria.
尤其值得重视也是给叙利亚反对派吃了一颗定心丸的是,中国方面反复强调,中国是全体叙利亚人民的朋友,在叙利亚问题上没有私利,不是谁的庇护者,也不刻意反对谁,而是把维护叙利亚人民的根本利益、维护中东地区的和平与稳定和维护有关国际关系准则作为出发点和落脚点。可以说,中方的声明其实已经撇清了与叙利亚官方不明不白的关系,回归到了国际社会应该认同的保护叙利亚民众利益的核心话题上。但是叙利亚官方又不能不认同中方的态度,因为他们自诩代表全体叙利亚人民的利益。这样中国在叙利亚问题上获得了最大的话语权,也有效的保护了中国在叙利亚已经取得的利益。

[...]

In Shan Ren’s opinion,  it can’t be ruled out that the Libyan’s [sic - should probably be Syrian] opposition group’s visit to China has been a mere formality, or that it was meant to persuade China in taking part in the promotion of regime change. If the visitors haven’t come to some sort of understanding with China, China’s influence on them may still remain without effect. Therefore, one can foresee that China and the opposition came to terms on certain issues, but it would be premature to read a Chinese position on regime change into this. China can’t make such an empty promise.
山人认为,利比亚反对派组团访华,当然也不排除是官样文章,甚至是带着说服中国参与推动叙利亚政权更迭的使命来访的。如果他们这次来访不能够与中方达成某种默契,那么中方对他们的影响可能并不能够达到某种效果。所以可以预见中方会在某些问题上与反对派达成妥协,但是期望中国在政权更迭问题上表态,时间似乎过早,中方是不会给反对派一张空头支票的。

In future, China will continue to strengthen communications with all Syrian parties involved, to peacefully and appropriately make unremitting efforts to solve the Syrian crisis. There are many variables when it comes to the future direction Syria might take. China respects the Syrian people’s right to make its own decisions, in ways that suit their national conditions best, China opposes interference into Syria’s internal affairs by foreign forces, and this position will not change. This rules out the attempts by Western countries to use military force to the end of regime change, and gives the Syrian parties no reason to disrespect China’s role [or effect] in Syria.
今后,中方会继续与叙利亚有关各方加强沟通,为和平、妥善化解叙利亚危机作出不懈努力。至于叙利亚未来的走向,有很多变项。中方尊重叙利亚人民自主选择适合于国情的发展道路,反对外来势力干涉叙利亚的内政这一立场绝对不会改变。这就排除了西方国家企图动用武力推动政权更迭的可能,让叙利亚各方不得不尊重中国在叙利亚的作用。

Reportedly, the Syrian opposition delegation, on its China visit, explained its “organization’s”3) position concerning the current Syrian situation, praised the just position China had long upheld in Middle East matters, expressed their desire to strengthen communication with the Chinese side, and their hope that China would play a greater role to promote a path out of the crisis for Syria as soon as possible. This can be seen as an initial result of China’s attitude towards all parties in Syria. As for China’s veto against the security council’s resolution to interfere in Syria, it was the product of the game among great powers, and can’t possibly be regarded by the Syrian opposition as a blow against them.
据媒体报道,在此次访华中,叙利亚反对派代表团向中方介绍了“机构”对叙利亚当前局势的看法及主张,赞赏中国长期以来在中东地区事务中所持正义立场,表示愿与中方加强沟通,希望中方发挥更大作用,共同推动叙利亚早日摆脱危机。可以说中国对叙利亚各方的态度已经收到了初步效果。至于中国否决联合国安理会涉叙决议案,那仅仅是大国博弈的产物,叙利亚反对派不可能会认为是对反对派的冲击。

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Note

1) On Ifeng’s  (Phoneix, Hong Kong) website, where the “blog” is also hosted, “Shan Ren”, or Shan Ren’s People’s Blog (壮图山人的人民博客) states her actual name as Zhang Shuigao (张水高 ). Same as some other authors hosted there, she states that she is a patriot with no party affiliations (无党无派,爱国爱家). I’m putting blogger into quotation marks to indicate that all the same, these posts may amount to an official approach to explain Chinese policies to People’s Daily readers. “Shan Ren” covers a wide range of topics, from current affairs back to Chiang Kai-shek. In all likelihood, there will be no official public explanations of the Chinese government’s motivations, beyond stating the usual principles. Frequently, Chinese academics fill such gaps, at home and abroad, and thus play an official or semi-official role. “Bloggers” may do so, too.

2) 反对派 may be translated as opposition or as opposition faction.

3) see this post’s footnote for a more specific description of the visiting delegation.

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