China’s Syrian Firewall
Activists now put the death toll in Syria at more than eight thousand and climbing. If Russia’s motives are easier to divine—Assad has been a loyal customer for years—what is driving China’s calculations on this? What does China get out of Syria? For more, I checked in with Shi Yinhong, an influential international-relations specialist at Renmin University, who told me that, while China sees a “need to keep step with Russia” to some degree, the motivations are distinctly Chinese: “China’s worry about the resurgent Western ‘liberal interventionism’ is playing a substantial part, especially after the abuse by NATO countries” and Arab allies in Libya, he said. Shi, who is an adviser to the Chinese cabinet on foreign affairs, went on: “The Chinese government may feel that it has to stop at somewhere to hold on to the principle of sovereignty and non-intervention…. If this time it and Russia do the same as they did over Libya, very bad developments over Iran would probably come true—uglier and sooner.”
For China, in effect, Syria has become a firewall. China is setting itself up for an unwelcome response from a transforming Middle East, but leaders in Beijing have have more immediate concerns: “China’s reputation in the Arab world will be hurt to some degree, but it will surely be quite temporary and limited. After all, China should not be required to agree with others every time. Otherwise, its reputation, including that for willpower, might be negatively impacted even more in the longer term both among the Chinese public and some, or perhaps many, nations in the world.”
Read more about China and Syria via CDT.