How Syria Divided the World

While China has hardened its position towards Syria, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on China to use its influence in the Syria dispute, from AFP:

The UN leader “called on China to use its influence to ensure the full and immediate implementation” of the peace plan of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and an international communique which China agreed on June 30 calling for a political transition in Syria, said the spokesman.

They discussed “the imperative need for the violence to stop at once” and the massacre in the village of Triemsa on Thursday in which at least 150 people died.

The Security Council has to pass a resolution by July 20 to renew the mandate of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS). Britain, the United States, France, Germany and Portugal want sanctions added to the resolution if Assad does not pull back his heavy weapons in line with Annan’s peace plan.

Russia and China have twice used their powers as permanent members of the Security Council to veto resolutions which just hinted at sanctions.

Aside from Ban’s call on China to stop the violence in Syria, the UN Secretary General plans to stop in China to discuss China-Africa cooperation, the Voice of America adds:

On Friday, U.N. envoy Kofi Annan blamed government forces and armed militiamen for what he called “atrocities” in Tremseh. Syrian state media blamed terrorists for the massacres.

Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights tells VOA at least 31 people were killed in anti-government-related violence across Syria on Saturday. Activists also say Syrian forces pounded the southern town of Khirbet Ghazaleh.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon departs Monday for China where he will meet with the country’s leaders and participate in a forum on China-Africa cooperation.

China and Russia’s veto of the UN Security Council resolution on the dispute has garnered criticism from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Despite China’s veto, Xinhua has reported that China condemns the recent violence in Syria:

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Saturday strongly condemned the recent attacks in the Syrian village of Tremseh in the province of Hama, which reportedly resulted in over 200 deaths.

Spokesman Liu Weimin said in a statement that China strongly condemns the killing of innocent civilians. China hopes that a thorough investigation into the killings will be launched and those responsible for the abuses will be duly punished, he said.

“We once again urge Syrian parties concerned to take substantial measures to cease all acts of violence, protect civilians and fully implement Annan’s six-point proposal, the communique of the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Action Group on the Syrian issue and relevant UN Security Council resolutions,” he said in the statement.

According to CNN, Iran has offered to host the Syria talks:

Iran has offered to host talks between Syria’s government and opposition in Tehran, its foreign minister said Sunday.

“Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi says the Islamic Republic is prepared to facilitate talks between the Syrian government and opposition by hosting a meeting between the two sides in Tehran,” state-run Press TV reported.

Salehi told reporters Iran will invite dissidents “in a bid to prepare and facilitate the ground for talks between the Syrian dissidents and government,” according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

Salehi emphasized that Iran supports the six-point plan proposed by Kofi Annan, the joint United Nations-Arab League envoy to Syria.

China’s need for Iranian oil seems to be fueling Iran’s offer to host the Syrian talks, from The New York Review of Books:

So the Great Powers are facing off in the most volatile region on earth, in a contest that is already destabilizing the domestic politics of Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. It will go on like this for some time. Neither Russia nor the US wants to fuel the escalation that would bring the Syrian civil war to an end, lest this risk a direct confrontation between the two of them. The Russians and Americans are also restrained by their second and equally dangerous standoff over neighboring Iran. Russia helped build Iran’s nuclear program, China needs Iranian oil and both are willing to support Iran’s defense of the region’s Shias, including Syria’s Alawites, especially when the US and the Saudis are lined up behind the Sunnis.

But while Russia and the US want to keep the confrontation below boiling point, their proxies—Iran and Syria on one side, and Israel, Saudi Arabia on the other—will seek to drag them in deeper. And it’s not clear that either Washington or Moscow will be able to contain that pressure.

The Syrian conflict has laid bare how little the West understands Russia and China’s new approach to the world. Kofi Annan’s plan for Syria was based on the assumption that Russia’s real interest was in demonstrating to the US that it was the indispensable ally in the creation of a post-Assad transition. Annan’s attempt to secure Chinese support for his plan made a similar assumption.

What makes Syria a hinge-moment is that Russia and China are proving that they have no strategic interest in transitions beyond dictatorship, not just in Syria but anywhere else. Both Russia and China see Syria not through the prism of international peace and security or human rights, but through the logic of their own despotism. For Putin, Syria is Chechnya; for China it is Tibet. They understand Assad perfectly. He is doing what they have done many times and they want the world to understand that they will support any dictator facing similar challenges.

Read more about China and Syria relations, via CDT.

July 15, 2012 11:50 AM
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