A Chinese Position On Syria Issue: The UN Charter and “the Responsibility to Protect” (R2P)
Syria has been in turmoil since March 2011. Western countries have intervened in Syria in a high-profile manner since the beginning of the turmoil, first imposing unilateral sanctions on the Bashar al-Assad government, then presenting the Syria issue to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) twice through the League of Arab States (LAS), then submitting the issue to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), holding the “Friends of Syria” conference in Tunisia, and finally proposing a resolution concerning Syria at the United Nations Human Rights Council.
China and Russia vetoed the UN Security Council draft resolutions twice and cast a negative vote at the UN General Assembly. Neither Russia nor China participated in the “Friends of Syria” Conference and both voted against the UN Human Rights Council resolution on Syria.
The stances of China and Russia have drawn much attention from both the international community and Chinese citizens. Some people say that it is easy to understand Russia’s veto of the Western and LAS resolutions since Russia possesses over $20 billion in investments in Syria and maintains a military base there which is the only one left outside of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Meanwhile, Syria is a huge export market for Russia’s military equipment and Russia remains deeply concerned about the security of its southern border, provided that the Syria turmoil extends to Central Asia. However, China does not have too many interests in Syria. The two countries are thousands of miles apart and the China-Syria trade was worth only 2.48 billion US dollars (in 2010), accounting for only 0.08% of China’s overall foreign trade.
Meanwhile, China’s imports from Syria were worth only $40 million dollars with almost no oil or gas products. The cumulative number of Chinese students in Syria since 1978 amounts to only 131. Chinese labor working and overseas Chinese living in Syria are very sparse and China’s investments there are negligible. Therefore, some people think China’s veto on the Syria issue eludes their understanding.
China does not seek selfish interests in Syria, but China’s attitude towards the UN Security Council resolutions is not perplexing. China exercised its veto power in the Security Council because the draft resolutions contained contents that violated the purposes and principles of the UN Charter (referred to as the “Charter” hereafter). These contents may be employed as the foundation for waging an interventionist war, making political dialogue over Syria completely at sea while further escalating the Middle East turmoil and posing negative consequences on global resource supply and economic development.
As a result, what China vetoed were violations of the basic principles of the Charter. They were challenging the “foundation” used by foreign or international military blocs to wage war against Syria, the possibility that the West would bombard another Arab state, and the disastrous possibilities if the West were actually to become militarily involved in Syria. While opposing the West’s violations of the purposes and principles of the Charter, China has also been making active diplomatic efforts to promote a peaceful solution of the Syria issue.
I. The UN Charter does not give the Security Council power to push for regime change.
The Charter is the basic norm governing modern international relations as well as the cornerstone for maintaining international order today. Chapter I of the Charter lays out the four purposes and seven principles of the United Nations. The essence of the four purposes is to bring about settlement of international disputes by peaceful means, to take collective measures for the suppression of acts of aggression, and to remove threats to peace.
The core of the seven principles includes sovereign equality of all UN members, mutual non-use of military force, and non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs. Article 4 in Chapter II of the Charter stipulates that “all Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”.
Article 7 in Chapter II states that “nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII.” The logic underlying these statements clearly demonstrates that the United Nations should not intervene in any state’s internal affairs unless it acts according to Chapter VII of the Charter.
What then are the provisions of Chapter VII of the Charter? It reads, “the Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.” Article 41 authorizes the UN Security Council to take any measure not involving the use of armed force, while Article 42 asserts that the Security Council “may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.”
All these mean that the premise for the UN Security Council to take action is “the existence of a threat to and breach of international peace and security,” while the objective of such actions is to “restore international peace and security.” The military conflicts in Syria have caused significant civilian casualties, a fact that should attract the attention of the international community.
The Syria issue, however, is a domestic one by nature, since Syria did not have disputes with its neighboring states, nor did it threaten to use force against its neighbors or wage a war of aggression against any states. Therefore, the Syria issue should not be discussed within the framework of the UN Security Council and the Security Council should not intervene based on Chapter VII of the Charter.
With respect to the functions of the Security Council, Chapter V of the Charter specifies that “its members confer on the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security,” thereby establishing its fundamental duty of “maintaining international peace and security.”
Chapter V also stipulates that “the specific powers granted to the Security Council for the discharge of these duties are laid down in Chapters VI, VII, VIII, and XII,” meaning that besides the “purposes and principles” outlined in Chapter I and the provisions regarding the “Security Council” outlined in Chapter V, the duties of the Security Council are also illustrated in Chapters VI, VII, VIII, and XII. The regulations of Chapter VII are already elaborated above.
Chapter VI prescribes that the Security Council may call upon all parties involved in international disputes to settle their conflicts by peaceful means such as negotiations, mediation, conciliation, and arbitration, and may investigate any situation which might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute “in order to determine whether the continuance of the dispute or situation is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security.”
The character of such “international disputes” which the Security Council is authorized to mediate or investigate is very clear here. Chapter VIII of the Charter stresses that “nothing in the present Charter precludes the existence of regional arrangements or agencies for dealing with such matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security as are appropriate for regional action provided that such arrangements or agencies and their activities are consistent with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations.”
According to this, a regional organization (e.g. the Arab League) could take action (e.g. in the Middle East where members of the LAS are located) on the premise that international peace and security in that region are threatened, and these actions do not violate the Purposes and Principles of the Charter. Chapter XII of the Charter lays out provisions about the “trusteeship system” which is irrelevant to our discussion here.
In sum, in all the Charter’s articles regarding the Security Council’s functions, there is no mention of the power to make a member state’s government resign, let alone taking coercive actions to force the government to step down if it does not comply.
In the draft resolution submitted by the West to the Security Council through the LAS but vetoed by China and Russia, one article reads as such: “Fully supports in this regard the League of Arab States’ January 22 2012 decision to facilitate a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system, in which citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations or ethnicities or beliefs, including through commencing a serious political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition under the League of Arab States’ auspices, in accordance with the timetable set out by the League of Arab States.” (Article 7)
The true essence underneath this rhetorical maneuvering is to “fully support the LAS’ decision and implement the decision according to the timetable set out by the LAS.” Meanwhile, the most fundamental content of the LAS’ decision is that Bashar al-Assad transfer power within two weeks so that a national unity government can be established in two months.
For China, the problem is not about whether Bashar al-Assad will transfer his power. If the LAS can reach an agreement with all parties concerned in Syria so that Bashar will transfer power in two weeks and a unified Syrian national government could be set up within two months, China would have no difficulty endorsing such a decision since China welcomes any political arrangement supported by all sides in Syria. China does not have any diplomatic scheme aiming to sustain anyone’s leadership or prevent anyone from seizing power in Syria.
Does so would go against the fundamental principle and diplomatic practices of “non-interference in others’ internal affairs,” which China has been upholding for over 60 years. If the Security Council passed such a resolution, the purposes and principles of the Charter would be endangered, particularly because another article in the “draft” resolution noted that the Security Council would “review implementation of this resolution within 21 days and, in the event of non-compliance, […] consider further measures.” (Article 15) The so-called “further measures” here may include “taking actions by air, sea, or land forces” as outlined in Article 42 Chapter VII of the Charter.
Expecting Bashar al-Assad to resign due to the Security Council resolution is politically naïve. With the UNSC resolution, the opposition in Syria would be less likely to compromise while military clashes on the ground would be more intensive in the event that Bashar refuses to quit. Over a month has passed since the draft resolution was submitted for voting on February 4. If the resolution were passed then, the Security Council would have started negotiating whether to authorize the use of force against Syria based on the “timetable” set out by the LAS and contents of the resolution.
Western countries are keen on addressing the Syria issue by following the “Yemen model.” But in pursuing this objective, they seem to have forgotten that the “Yemen model” was not formulated by passing mandatory Security Council resolutions. If Western countries had propelled the Security Council to pass a mandatory resolution requesting regime change in Yemen, it would have caused the deterioration of Yemen’s political opposition and Yemen would not have achieved so much political development today.
If we look back further, we find that the West also tried repeatedly to push the Security Council to take coercive measures against Myanmar but failed due to objections from China, Russia, and other states. China was under tremendous diplomatic pressure and was accused by Western media at the time, but it chose to uphold the principles of the Charter.
Today, national reconciliation and democratic transition have been initiated in Myanmar. We can imagine, if the Security Council did pass resolutions sanctioning the Myanmar government as requested by the West, opposition parties would have been provoked while political turmoil, such as what occurred in Libya last year, would have occurred in Myanmar. This would have made it completely impossible to launch Myanmar’s political transition peacefully. Both theory and practice have proven that intervening in other countries’ internal affairs through passing compulsory Security Council resolutions will not lead to ideal outcomes.
On the contrary, more problems and trauma may be caused in relevant countries. Without foreign intervention, all nations are capable of conducting reforms based on their national conditions, in the process choosing development paths suitable to the situations in their country. What China has insisted on is that all countries leave enough space and time for the autonomous reforms of other countries throughout the world.
II. The “Responsibility to Protect” tends to be abused due to its extensive definition.
Western countries insist that the UN Charter was formulated more than 60 years ago, but the international situation has undergone tremendous changes since then. With globalization, military conflicts happening in one country impose threats on regional and even international peace and security.
Meanwhile, with the development of international norms, humanitarian disasters thatoccur in one country no longer belong strictly to its own internal affairs. Because of this, reports regarding “the responsibility to protect” were included in the “World Summit Outcome Document” passed by the UN General Assembly in 2005. Based on this, Western states assert that “the responsibility to protect” provides the legal basis for the Security Council’s intervention in the Syria crisis.
The concept of “responsibility to protect” was proposed at the beginning of the 21st century. Its background was the serious humanitarian catastrophes that occurred in Rwanda and Kosovo in the mid-1990s. In these cases, the international community failed to take effective measures to prevent recurrence, causing people to reflect criticize the system. The concept of “responsibility to protect” appeared thereafter, calling for the international community to intervene in the domestic affairs of countries in order to avert humanitarian disaster.
In support of the concept of “humanitarian intervention,” former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan wrote in the 2000 UN Millennium Report that “if humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica, to gross and systematic violations of human rights that affect every precept of our common humanity?” Since the concept of “intervention” was at odds with the principle of “non-interference in one’s internal affairs” specified in the UN Charter, “humanitarian intervention” gradually evolved into the “responsibility to protect.” There have been five important documents in the evolution of this concept.
The first is a report entitled “the Responsibility to Protect” published by the “International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty” (ICISS) in 2001. This report stated that “sovereign states have a responsibility to protect their own citizens from avoidable catastrophe – from mass murder and rape, from starvation – but that when they are unwilling or unable to do so, that responsibility must be borne by the broader community of states.”
The second came when the “High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change” submitted a report titled “A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility” to the UN Secretary-General in December 2004, endorsing the concept of the “responsibility to protect.”
In the third, which was titled “In Larger Freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all” and submitted by Secretary-General Annan to the 59th UN General Assembly in 2005, Annan expressed that “if national authorities are unable or unwilling to protect their citizens, then the responsibility shifts to the international community to use diplomatic, humanitarian and other methods to help protect the human rights and well-being of civilian populations.
When such methods appear insufficient, the Security Council may out of necessity take action under the Charter of the United Nations, including enforcement action, if so required.”
The fourth document was the “World Summit Outcome Document” adopted by the General Assembly in 2005, which declared that “[w]e are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.”
The fifth document, “Implementing the responsibility to protect,” was part of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s report to the 63rd General Assembly in 2009, in which he outlined three pillars of the“responsibility to protect,” including “the protection responsibilities of the state,” “international assistance and capacity-building,” and “timely and decisive response” while suggesting “the time has come to implement the proposal of ‘the responsibility to protect’.”
The concept of “responsibility to protect” has been controversial since it was formulated. Many countries worry that the “RtoP” may become a tool for powerful countries to interfere in the affairs of the weak, or that it may be applied selectively and that its scope will be extended arbitrarily.
Venezuelan President Huge Chavez has said that “the ‘responsibility to protect’ is a dangerous concept since it is a tool for America and other Western states to justify their infringement on others’ sovereignty.” Thomas Weiss, a political science professor at the City University of New York, also noted that the legal prospect of humanitarian intervention had been completely ruined by Bush and Blair’s invasion of Iraq, and that “taking actions irrespective of principles” had led to the irresponsible and selective use of interventions, weakening the legitimacy of the practice.
In the 2001 report titled “The Responsibility to Protect,” it was emphasized that humanitarian intervention aimed to prevent “avoidable catastrophe.” However, assessing what kinds of atrocities are “avoidable” is a subjective assessment that involves much individual evaluation. Another controversial point concerns when exactly the international community should conclude that “individual states are unwilling or unable to protect their populations?” “The Responsibility to Protect” Report outlined six thresholds to authorize military intervention, including “just cause, legitimate authority, right intention, final resort, proportional means and reasonable prospect.”
Regarding the criterion of “right cause,” genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and large scale natural disasters are defined relatively clearly based on relevant international treaties. However, “the threat or occurrence of large scale loss of life” and “situations of state collapse and the resultant exposure of the population to mass starvation and civil war” can be defined very widely. Foreign nations may criticize one state’s military actions against anti-government forces as “possibly causing the occurrence of large scale loss of life,” thus providing a rationale for intervention.
The relevant state, however, may well argue that its crackdown on illegal military forces was an attempt to prevent mass starvation and civil war resulting from state collapse, which conforms to the first of the responsibility to protect’s three pillars advocated by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Therefore, its actions should be assisted rather than intervened upon. In fact, the international community granted understanding, sympathy, and support to the Sri Lankan government’s military attacks on the Tamil Tiger based on the “responsibility to protect.”
With respect to the threshold of “legitimate authority,” some Western scholars advocate that “relevant nations or temporary state alliances may take actions as a response to urgent and serious situations should the Security Council fails to fulfill its responsibility to protect.” But the ICISS Report did not endorse such a suggestion, reiterating that “all proposals for military intervention must be formally brought before the Security Council and Security Council authorization must in all cases be sought prior to any military intervention action being carried out.”
The Report’s emphasis on the Security Council’s authorization is founded on its due concern that interventions may be initiated arbitrarily according to the “responsibility to protect,” hence why a Charter-based threshold should be set for them. According to this rule, no state or state group can enforce armed intervention in other countries unless they are authorized to do so by the Security Council.
As for the “right intention,” it is stressed in the “Responsibility to Protect” Report that the primary purpose of interventions is to halt or avert human suffering. However, since any military action involves budgetary costs and risk to personnel, it is thus imperative for the intervening state to claim some degree of self-interest in the intervention.
In the ICISS Report, the primary purpose of interventions is set as “halting or averting human suffering,” meaning that any other purposes, such as promoting certain kind of values, establishing political systems, or supporting any nation’s pursuit of independence, should not be perceived as legitimate reasons to intervene.
However, the notion of “claiming some degree of self-interest for the intervening state” can be interpreted much differently. “Some degree of self-interest” may be viewed as seizing oil and gas resources in the intervened state, demanding favorable investment conditions and market entry, or requesting the intervened state to follow policies that favor the intervening state.
The most effective means to realize these goals, moreover, is to infuse values of the intervening state into the intervened, while fostering a regime that is in favor of the intervening state. In fact, traces of these “rewards” for the intervening states can be found in the interventionist wars that took place after the Cold War, which diverged largely from the “justice” of “humanitarian intervention.”
Concerning the threshold of “last resort”, it was noted in the “RtoP” Report that when humanitarian crises occur, armed interference can only be considered after every non-military avenue, such as mediation, arbitration and sanctions, has failed. Looking at the Syria issue now, we see that although the chance of initiating political progress is slim, it is not completely lost yet. The Syrian government has started constitutional reforms and taken big strides on issues such as lifting the ban on political parties and allowing direct presidential elections.
About 57.4% of Syrian citizens participated in the referendum on constitutional reforms in which 89.4% voted in favor, indicating that adding up all those who didn’t vote, who abstained from voting and who voted against the reforms, the total took only 48.7% of Syria’s electorates. These figures demonstrate that over 50% of the Syrian public still supports the government’s reform plan while hoping to launch political transitions via reforms.
However, whether the political process can be initiated depends largely on foreign influence in Syria. Western nations did not take the chance to promote political progress in Syria, they provided assistance to the opposition and supported their founding of a “Military Bureau” instead, thus narrowing the space for compromise and actually escalating the situation into a civil war. On the other hand, Western countries also sought to wage armed interventions against Syria by passing Security Council resolutions, claiming that they had exhausted all diplomatic endeavors. This is not a responsible option for most of the Syrian people.
As for “proportionality” and “reasonable prospect” factors, the ICISS Report claimed that the scale, duration, and intensity of any military intervention should all be kept to a minimum to secure that the humanitarian objective in question not be hindered. However, this rule was not observed in several intervention cases.
According to reports by the U.S.-based “Time” magazine, over 5,000 Yugoslavian policemen and soldiers were killed and 1,500 civilians bombed to death in the Kosovo war, whose casualties were three times larger than those suffered during the Serbian-Arabian conflict prior to the NATO bombing. Resolution 1973 of the UNSC authorized member states to take “all necessary measures other than foreign military occupation to impose a “no-fly zone” and ceasefire in Libya.
However, NATO turned “the ban on all flights” into extensive attacks on Libyan governmental forces while turning the “ceasefire” into assisting anti-government troops’ counter-offensives until they seized Tripoli the capital. NATO became involved in the Libyan civil war by helping the opposition’s air force, which went beyond the UNSC authorization of enforcing a “no-fly zone” and “ceasefire.” Prior to NATO’s bombings, thousands were killed in Libya’s internal conflicts.
However, the conflicts escalated under NATO’s bombing and the death toll reached over 20,000 when the opposition took Tripoli. In the process, more than one million people became refugees. In Iraq, the U.S. waged war against Saddam and overthrew his regime without authorization from the UN Security Council or any concrete evidence, causing the collapse of Iraqi state institutions.
The “rebuilding” of Iraq, however, has been slow and ineffective. More than a decade has passed, and stability has not been restored in Iraq. Meanwhile, ethnic and religious conflicts have been so aggravated that bombings have occurred almost every week, causing mounting civilian casualties. The U.S., however, has somewhat abandoned Iraq. Some impassioned Western “human rights fighters,” who have always been outraged by human rights violations, kept silent and turned a blind eye to humanitarian catastrophes in Iraq, with no one questioning or condemning the atrocities there.
All these facts prove that once military intervention has been launched, all limits and rules set in the “RtoP Report” are completely ignored. Humanitarian disasters resulting from armed intervention tend to be worse than the pre-intervention situation, a fact that violates the principles of “proportionality in means” or “reasonable prospect” advocated in the ICISS Report.
To sum up, in theory, the “responsibility to protect” concept is apt to be abused due to its blurred and extensive definition and the arbitrariness of its application. In practice, various thresholds set by advocates of the RtoP to avoid its deviation from the correct path have been neglected and thus not performed their functions. All precedents ended with disastrous consequences, deviating largely from the original intention of the original concept of “responsibility to protect.” The situation should not be repeated in Syria or any other place in the world.
III. Russia’s attempt to promote a “balanced” resolution in the Security Council met with Western rejections.
The UN Security Council held intensive discussions over the Western countries’ draft resolution submitted by the Arab League on January 22, 2012. The key of the discussions surrounded whether to condemn all parties engaging in violence in a balanced manner, whether to impose equivalent pressure on all parties to immediately stop all violence, or whether to leave a door for the UNSC to authorize the use of force against Syria later. Russia proposed amendments to the draft in order to make it more balanced and fair, but most of Russia’s amendments were turned down by the West.
In the preface of the “draft resolution,” Russia proposed to add the phrase “Expresses support for the broad trend of political transition to democratic, plural political systems in the Middle East,” but the West denied this request. Their hidden concern was that, according to Western criteria, Syria or Iran were not the worst cases in terms of promoting democracy and political plurality in the Middle East.
Instead, U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf, where it pursues substantial oil and geopolitical interests, have been the slowest to make democratic progress. The US wished to see earth-shattering democratic transitions in “dissident” states like Syria and Iraq, but it did not necessarily hope “the broad trend to go across the Middle East” in order to sustain the political survival of its resource-rich allies.
Article 1 of the original draft went like this: “Condemns the continued widespread and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities, such as the use of force against civilians, arbitrary executions, killing and persecution of protestors and members of the media, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, interference with access to medical treatment, torture, sexual violence, and ill-treatment, including against children.”
Russia asked to revise the clause “such as the use of force against civilians,” to become “especially the use of force against civilians,” but Western states rejected the request. The key point was, the draft sought to take all accusations against the Syrian government, which were filed by the opposition but not proven by any independent international investigative body, as facts that could be confirmed by the adoption of a UNSC resolution. All these accusations, meanwhile, used words describing “crimes against humanity” as outlined in existing international treaties.
Once the accusations were confirmed, the Syria authorities could be viewed as committing one of the four crimes – “crimes against humanity” – upon which the UN could intervene based on the “responsibility to protect” which was illustrated in the “World Summit Outcome Document” adopted by the General Assembly in 2005. Therefore, it would be reasonable and legitimate to conduct “humanitarian intervention” against Syria.
Article 3 of the original draft read, “Condemns all violence, irrespective of where it comes from, and in this regard demands that all parties in Syria, including armed groups, immediately stop all violence or reprisals, including attacks against State institutions, in accordance with the League of Arab States’ initiative.”
Russia suggested reformulating the second part of the sentence to read, “immediately stop violations of human rights, including intimidation of civilians and attacks against State institutions, in accordance with the League of Arab States’ initiative.” The difference between the two was that the revised version implied that armed opposition groups in Syria also committed crimes such as “violating human rights and intimidating civilians.”
Facing rejection from the West, Russia further suggested a reformulation of Article 3 as such: “Calls for all sections of the Syrian opposition to dissociate themselves from armed groups engaged in acts of violence and urges member-states and all those in a position to do so to use their influence to prevent continued violence by such groups.”
In this way, Articles 1 and 2 of the draft would condemn the Syrian government’s acts of violence, while Article 3 imposed pressure on armed groups and sought to overthrow the Syrian government by force. The revised draft, which was more balanced in calling for the end of violence, was again completely rejected by the West, thus appeasing and even encouraging armed groups to engage in acts of violence.
Article 5 of the “Draft Resolution” demanded that the Syrian government fulfill six duties without delay. The original wording of the Third point was, “withdraw all Syrian military and armed forces from cities and towns, and return them to their original home barracks.” Russia proposed to amend it to become, “withdraw all Syrian military and armed forces from cities and towns, and return them to their original home barracks in conjunction with the end of attacks by armed groups against state institutions and quarter of cities and towns.”
The West once again turned down Russia’s proposal, with the logical inference that the Syrian government must withdraw its military forces from cities and towns while other armed groups may not stop their attacks against state institutions and cities and towns. We could imagine what kind of situation would appear if such a resolution was adopted and enforced.
The Arab League’s decision on January 22, 2012 was reiterated in Article 7 of the draft resolution, “commencing a serious political dialogue…under the League of Arab States’ auspices, in accordance with the timetable set out by the League of Arab States.” Russia demanded to rephrase the article in the following way: “commencing a serious political dialogue…under the League of Arab States’ auspices, taking into account the timetable set out by the League of Arab States, without prejudging the outcome.”
Russia changed “in accordance with” to “taking into account” while adding the condition of “without prejudging the outcome,” all aiming to leave more space for compromises through political dialogue. Again, their suggestions were not accepted by the West. Once the Western draft was adopted as a UNSC resolution, political dialogue would only be a superficial gesture, since the schedule and final result had been unilaterally predetermined by the opposition side. It is hard to imagine that the Syrian government would accept such a resolution.
Article 9 of the draft called for the Syrian authorities to cooperate fully with the League of Arab States’ observer mission and to provide all necessary assistance to the mission. In accordance with Article 9, Russia demanded to add a phrase in Article 10. The West rejected Russia’s attempt to include the sentence, “stresses the need for armed groups not to obstruct the mission’s work.”
All amendments to draft resolution raised by Russia were rejected while all condemnations and mandatory requirements put forward in the resolution targeted the Syrian government rather than the opposition factions. Under such circumstances, Article 15 of the draft stated “decides to review implementation of this resolution within 21 days and, in the event of non-compliance, to consider further measures.”
Russia finally demanded a three-day delay in its voting in order to grant time and diplomatic space for Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s mediation tour to Syria on February 7, but Western countries again refused. How could Russia not to veto the draft resolution under such circumstances?
IV. China strongly pushes for a political settlement on the Syrian issue.
China and Russia are strategic partners, and it is natural for the two to exchange views and coordinate their actions on key international issues. At the same time, the two are each other’s largest neighboring states and share many common viewpoints regarding international affairs, thus making it easier for them to understand and support each other. More importantly, the draft resolution vetoed jointly by China and Russia contained contents that violated the purposes of the UN Charter, as well as the basic norms that govern international relations.
The principles governing international relations are not only guaranteeing the political independence and economic growth of developing countries. They also include determining whether general trends of peace and stability can be sustained in the world and whether China can continue taking the historic opportunity to maintain its momentum of rapid growth. Therefore, adhering to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and the basic norms of international relations are attempts to ensure a friendly external environment for China’s peaceful development and to protect China’s national interests.
On one hand, China vetoed the draft resolution at the UN Security Council which may have provided a foundation for the West’s armed intervention in Syria. On the other hand, China has been making serious efforts to mediate and promote dialogue among various factions in Syria. Except for repeatedly urging the Syrian government to respect its people’s appeal for political reform and stopping all acts of violence, China has also established connections with factions on the opposition side which do not opt for the use of force in Syria.
China started contacting Syrian opposition groups as early as last August. In early February 2012, China received a delegation from the “National Coordination Body for Democratic Change,” the most influential opposition group in Syria. The Chinese government also sent a Special Envoy, Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun, to Syria, who met with Syrian authorities and the opposition to push for an initiation of political dialogue.
The Chinese government further issued a six-point statement for the political settlement of the Syrian issue via a talk given by a top Foreign Ministry official on March 4th. Ambassador Li Huaxin visited Syria on behalf of Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on March 7th, exchanging views with the Syrian government and all parties concerned on the above-mentioned statement. China’s stance can be summarized in six key terms: ending violence, dialogue, assistance, non-military interference, coordination, and unity.
In order to “end violence,” China urges all parties concerned to immediately and fully cease all acts of violence in Syria. China has repeatedly condemned all acts of violence targeted at civilians, including those committed by the Syrian government, which controls the national military force, as well as those by various opposition factions seeking regime change by force. They especially condemn opposition factions engaging in terrorist activities such as the bombing of Syria’s state institutions. Only when all parties concerned abandon the use of force can violence really be stopped and civilian casualties reduced.
As for “dialogue,” China urges all sides to “immediately launch an inclusive political dialogue with no preconditions attached or outcome predetermined,” since this is the key to initiating Syria’s political change. “With no preconditions attached” means that the top priority for all parties concerned is to embark on negotiations instead of shedding blood on the streets and battlefield. “With no outcome predetermined” means that any faction can rule the country so long as there is an agreement reached among all sides. “Inclusive” indicates that all political forces should engage in the political dialogue. Only when no political party is excluded from the process can dialogue truly reflect Syria’s political reality.
With respect to “assistance”, China supports the endeavor of the international community in providing humanitarian assistance to Syria and is willing to contribute to such assistance as well. However, China emphasizes the UN’s leading role in coordinating humanitarian relief efforts, insisting that the UN, or an impartial body acceptable to all parties, should make an objective and comprehensive assessment of the humanitarian situation in Syria in order to ensure the delivery and distribution of humanitarian aid.
If this is properly implemented, the attempts by certain nations to impose a non-fly zone or enlarge a corridor by force under the banner of “humanitarian assistance” will become futile. Meanwhile, the possibility of turning a humanitarian relief act into a war against the Syrian government would be quite impossible.
Regarding “non-military interference,” China insists that the principles of the UN Charter and the basic norms governing international relations should be strictly observed, and it calls for all relevant parties of the international community to earnestly respect the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Syria. China does not approve of armed interference or pushing for regime change in Syria. It believes that the use of sanctions does not help resolve this issue appropriately.
As for “coordination,” China calls upon the international community to enhance their cooperation in promoting a political solution to the Syrian issue. China welcomes the appointment of the Joint Special Envoy on the Syrian crisis by the UN and the Arab League and supports the Special Envoy in playing a constructive role in bringing about a political resolution of the crisis. China used its veto power at the UN Security Council while casting a negative vote in the General Assembly, but this does not mean China negated the diplomatic efforts made by the Arab League.
On the contrary, China endorses the propositions of the Arab states and the LAS on ending violence immediately, properly protecting civilians, providing humanitarian assistance, and avoiding foreign military interference. What China does not approve in the LAS resolution are those contents that may be utilized by the West to wage war against Syria.
Concerning “unity,” China maintains that based on the purposes and principles of the UN Charter members of the Security Council should engage in “equal-footed, patient and full” consultation in order to safeguard the unity of the Security Council. This means that no one should force other permanent members of the UNSC to exercise their veto power by pushing a not-fully-consulted and thus apparently flawed draft resolution to vote. Putting a seriously divided draft resolution to a vote while knowing it will be vetoed embarrasses states vetoing it and does not help push for its adoption. This is not a constructive attitude towards problem solving.
Today, Syria is at the crossroads between peace and war. We see two trends developing in the international community. One involves various peace efforts taken to promote Syria’s political process, including the Chinese Special Envoy’s visit to Syria, the six-point statement issued by the leading Chinese Foreign Ministry official, the visit to Syria made by the Russian Foreign Minister, the increasingly rational voice inside the Arab League, some LAS members’ abstention from UN voting on resolutions concerning Syria, and the appointment of the Joint Special Envoy on the Syrian crisis by the UN and the Arab League.
The other trend, however, has been contributing to the escalation of the military conflict. For example, some opposition groups in Syria set up a “Military Bureau” abroad while some states ask to provide military equipment and training of personnel to the opposition.
Since there are only around 30,000 opposition militants who want to defeat the hundreds of thousands of Syrian soldiers and police by relying on foreign assistance, we can imagine that the intensity of the fights, the devastation wrecked upon state infrastructure, and the tragic casualties among the people.
China exercised its veto power at the UNSC and voted against a resolution in the UN General Assembly. It did this not for the sake of siding with one party or the other. Instead, China does not want to see the UNSC resolution become distorted again to provide a foundation for waging war against Syria, nor does it like to see the complete loss of a rare opportunity for political dialogue, nor does it hope to see another Arab state being shattered under foreign bombing and another group of Arab people, irrespective of their political beliefs, being slaughtered by foreign bombs.
Frankly speaking, in today’s world, if the most powerful military alliance is committed “regime change” in a weak state via the use of force regardless of the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, it is very difficult to stop. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and in an attitude responsible to the UN Charter, China has been promoting the start of political dialogue in Syria. China is making the biggest effort for peace-building in Syria, and we truly hope that these efforts are successful.
The author Qu Xing is President of China Institute of International Studies. The article will be published soon in China International Studies ( March/April 2012).
Via The 4th Media