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UPDATED: February 28, 2012 NO. 9 MARCH 1, 2012
Looking for the Middle in the Middle East
China attempts to build consensus on the Syrian crisis
By Yu Lintao

VOICE: Syrians participate in a rally in Damascus on February 21 to protest against Article 3 of the new draft Constitution, which states the president of the country should be Muslim (QIN HAISHI)

They said the main role of the international community, including the General Assembly, is to facilitate engagement of the Syrian Government with all sections of Syrian society for an inclusive political process. They stressed the UN resolution should not be seen as the basis to topple the Syrian Government.

"We are firmly of the view that a political process for resolution of the present crisis should be led by the Syrians themselves," said Hardeep Singh Puri, Indian Ambassador to the UN. Puri called on all opposition forces in Syria to peacefully engage in constructive dialogue with the authorities and said the leadership of Syria is a matter for the Syrian people to decide.

"China's rejection of the UN resolution does not mean that Beijing takes sides with the Syrian Government. The resolution requires the Syrian Government to stop all violence while turning a blind eye to violence conducted by the armed groups of the opposition. The excessive suppression of one side may naturally encourage the other, which will make the situation more complicated," said Zhang Xiao'an, Vice President and Director General of the United Nations Association of China (UNAC).

"China has always insisted that all regional conflicts and disputes should be settled in accordance with the basic principles of the UN Charter. Backed by the West and with the intent of forcing the Syrian president to step down, the resolution passed by the UN General Assembly is obviously a violation of the principle of non-interference in internal affairs. The government of a country should be decided by its people, not by the UN or other countries," Zhang added.

The General Assembly resolution on Syria might add fuel to humanitarian disasters in the name of humanitarianism, said Zhang.

"The resolution will push the Syrian Government into a corner. It might be helpful to overturn a regime, but how about the future of Syria? China doesn't want to see Syria end up with a full-scale civil war as in Libya, which would be disastrous," Zhang added.

Encouraging dialogue

"China hopes the crisis can be settled peacefully and the country is making its own efforts to make that happen," Zhang said.

As the Syrian issue became more complicated, several Chinese diplomats shuttled through the Middle East to mediate the crisis. Former Chinese Ambassador to Syria Li Huaxin visited Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in February to exchange views with Arab League officials on the issue. Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun was sent to Syria as a special envoy of the Chinese Government to push for a peaceful and proper solution. Wu Sike, China's Special Envoy to the Middle East, also visited Israel, Palestine and Jordan.

"China is not an onlooker in the face of the Syrian crisis; instead, it is taking pragmatic steps to ease the situation," said Ruan. "China will shoulder its responsibilities and play its role actively on the issue. Though we cannot guarantee the best result, the attitude toward and the process of crisis solving are as important as the outcome."

While meeting with Syrian President Assad in Damascus on February 18, Zhai said China is deeply worried about the escalating crisis in the country, which has caused civilian casualties and affected peace and stability in the Middle East.

Zhai also met leaders of main opposition groups in Syria during his visit. He said China urges all parties concerned to immediately launch inclusive political dialogue with no preconditions attached, and jointly discuss a comprehensive political reform plan.

"With the good exchange of views between the Chinese special envoy and Syrian opposition, I think the opposition parties could understand and accept our stance for the interests of the Syrian people," Zhang said.

Because many Arab countries back the UN resolution on Syria, there have been worries that China's opposing votes might cast a shadow on Sino-Arab relations. Chinese analysts, however, argue that China's stance not only focuses on addressing current difficulties in Syria, but also features a long-term perspective on the regional stability of the Middle East and people's interests in the region. China's decision will therefore withstand the test of history and will not adversely affect its relations with Arab countries.

"China and the Arab League have smooth communications on the issue. Actually, the Arab League's power transition plan was drafted by Western countries, but presented by the Arab League. In addition, the plan is intensely disputed within the Arab League," said Qu of the CIIS.

Email us at: yulintao@bjreview.com

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