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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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