Chinese Interests in Syria

Chinese involvement and her role in the ongoing Syrian crises make an interesting reading. While Russia has vital stakes in the survival of Assad because if his regime fell, Russia would lose much of its influence in the Middle East as the ties between Russia and Syria are more than four decades old. Russia is not only the biggest supplier of arms to Syria but has its sole remaining naval base in the Middle East and on the Mediterranean Sea. By taking a very proactive part in the Syrian crises, Russia wants to give a message to the world that she is as relevant in today’s world as it has been in the past. By bogging down the U.S. in the Middle Eastern quagmire, Russia is not only interested to check American hegemony in the unfolding New Cold War, she also wants to stop the so-called ‘regime change dramas’ which, it genuinely fears, might be enacted in its sphere of influence or in Russia itself. Defending Assad will enhance credibility of new Russia, inheritor of Soviet Empire, as a defender of its friends in the Region, known for valuing loyalty more than pragmatism. Finally, Russians are also wary of the emerging Islamic fundamentalism which can cause existential threat to Russia if it reaches near its borders. For them, Syria is a breeding and training ground for Chechen fighters who will eventually come back to fight against the Russian forces.
On the other hand, it is harder to explain why China continues to thwart any efforts to take tougher action against Assad. Unlike Russia, China does not have direct interests at stake in Syria, nor does it sell Syria any weapons. Bilateral trade between the two countries was around one billion US dollars which has even dwindled significantly after the civil war in Syria.
Publicly Chinese explanation is simple and straightforward; China has a long-standing policy of non-intervention, has no interest in playing world-policeman, and even less of an interest in humanitarian intervention and is sticking to that in case of Syrian Crises. Chinese view the Syria conflict more as an intra-regional and intra-religious issue which has overblown due to external interventions. That is why, in Geneva II talks, China put forward a very neutral five-point proposal for resolving the Syrian crises;

  1. Political settlement to the Syria conflict
  2. Syria’s fate “must be decided by its own people”
  3. Inclusive political transition process
  4. National reconciliation and unity within Syria
  5. Humanitarian assistance to Syria and its neighbours

Apparently China doesn’t look like a serious player in the Syrian crises but the fact is that she is fully supporting Assad directly through financial assistance and indirectly by providing him all the diplomatic support. Its active veto in the UN against the Arab League resolution, despite desperate attempts by the Arab league members has very strategic implications. This can be explained in strategic aims of China.

  • Both are concerned about the way unwanted regimes have been ousted in the Arab Spring and believe that the UN Security Council has been used to change the regimes the West does not like and could be used to do the same in their respective sphere of influence. Moreover, the Chinese government is wary of regime change on the basis of human rights as it will create a precedent for possible demand of the global civil society to take notice of her own treatment of minorities in China.
  • China is also deeply concerned about the way radical Islamic groups are being used to create uprising in Syria and genuinely fears that similar tactics will be used to foment unrest in her soft belly -Muslim populations in it is a sort of pre-emptive action on the part of china.
  • Chinese support Russian policy in Syria is a strategic move to change the global world order which was created by the USA and her allies after the fall of USSR. By openly allying with Russia instead of merely abstaining the UNO, in a vote in which Russia has such high stakes, China expects greater cooperation from Russia in issues in which China has high stakes There are several reasons for this overt and covert support;
  • Desperate for resources, particularly hydrocarbon, China is interested to ensure that the regimes in this resource-rich region should remain neutral, if not overtly pro-China. China, like most of the other state stakeholders, is interested to making sure the Syrian crises  does not spill over to affect the broader Middle East  which is already bursting at the seams due to various social ,economic and political conflicts among the various state and non-state actors. Keeping in view the geo-economical importance of Middle East for her own progress and prosperity, any spill over of the crises would disrupt trade within the region as a whole, a potential disaster for China.
  • She is deeply worried about the creeping total hegemony of the Middle East by the USA, particularly after Libyan fiasco and will try her best not to see the repeat of the same in any other Middle Eastern country. In fact this is a sign of China’s growing assertiveness, standing up for what it believes in and does not want to be taken for granted on issues in which it has vital stakes. Her active role in Afghanistan is testimony to this new assertiveness. China and Russia think they were duped in Libya where they did not veto a UN resolution imposing a no-fly zone. Later on, Western powers used that concession to topple the Gaddafi regime – and don’t want a repeat of that experience.
  • It is also interested to flex its muscle and to be taken seriously as a future global power. It is the combined support of China, Russia and Iran which is propping up the Assad regime.
  • Like Russia and Iran, China is also interested that USA and NATO forces are bogged down in another conflict in a far off battleground rather than pestering her nearer home. It is an open secret how USA is trying to destabilise China by fomenting troubles in her Muslim-dominated region of Sinkiang and Buddhist Tibet
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