REGAINING CONTROL: A boy waves Syrian national flag after forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad captured the town of Nabak, north of Damascus, on December 9, 2013 (XINHUA/AFP)
The first batch of chemical weapons was shipped out of Syria on January 7, bringing bigger hopes for a peaceful settlement to the chemical weapon issue in the country. Although it is too early to say that Syria's crisis can be ended in the immediate future, the move will at least clear away an obstacle to a political settlement and negotiations between the Syrian Government and opposition groups.
A good start
On December 27, 2013, at the invitation of Russia, representatives from China, the United States, Syria, Denmark, Norway and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-UN joint mission held a multilateral coordination meeting in Moscow. They agreed on a plan to escort a secure and smooth transport of Syrian chemical weapons. The Chinese naval vessel Yancheng went on to participate in the joint escort mission on January 7 together with naval vessels from Russia, Denmark and Norway.
The world is thrilled to see a positive development in Syria's three-year-long conflict. Both the OPCW and the UN released statements to welcome the fresh progress, hailing it as an important step toward a resolution to the crisis.
"China has become an indispensable part of handling the Syrian conflict," Liu Yueqin, a senior research fellow on Syrian studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said to Beijing Review. She explained that China has long insisted on a peaceful solution to the chemical weapon issue in Syria. It had three motions of the UN Security Council on military attacks against Syria vetoed together with Russia, which to some degree led to the final peaceful solution. Furthermore, China is part of Russia's "chemical weapons for peace" plan, she added.
Liu pointed out that the agreement involved negotiations among both great powers and regional countries. She said that the Syrian Government surprisingly accepted Russia's "chemical weapons for peace" plan soon after the Group of 20 Summit was held in Moscow in early September last year. "It proved that Russia and the United States must have reached a common understanding on the chemical weapon issue," said Liu.
"We believe that a timely and swift removal of chemical weapons will help advance the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria. China applauds the efforts made by all parties and the ensuing progress. China will step up coordination with all parties to jointly ensure the safety and success of the shipping process," said Hua Chunying, spokeswoman of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on January 8.
Chen Kai, Vice Secretary General of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, considered the chemical weapon transport as a good start to the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria. He believed that the encouraging beginning will positively influence the situation in both Syria and the wider region. He explained that it was very challenging for Syria to prepare for the transport of chemical weapons to the sea under a complex domestic environment in such a short time.
"This is a joint achievement made by related parties, including the UN, the OPCW and global powers including China, Russia and the United States," said Chen. "All parties made great efforts through diplomatic mediation for a peaceful solution." Chen noted that there were few precedents of transporting chemical weapons for disposal. But he believes that as long as current international cooperation is sustained, destruction of chemical weapons in Syria will be peacefully and effectively carried out.
The UN Security Council passed Resolution 2118 on the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons in September 2013, ordering the special procedure of disposing of Syria's chemical weapons in the safest and speediest way. According to the resolution, all shipments of chemical weapons are expected to complete by February 5. Additionally, all chemical weapons facilities and equipment in Syria should be destroyed before June 30, 2014. Based on the resolution, the first shipment was actually slightly delayed.