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Sino-Western conflict on the U.N. Syrian resolution

By Chin Jin - posted Friday, 10 February 2012


On 4 October 2011, a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria was vetoed by China and Russia. This issue resurfaced on 4 January 2012, prompting a 15-nation U.N. Security Council vote. Thirteen nations supported the resolution to impose sanctions on the Syrian Assad regime, while Russia and China both voted against it, hence aborting the resolution once more.

The world was shocked by this disappointing result. Russia and China instantly became the targets of global criticism. It is said that the veto of this resolution is tantamount to issuing the Assad regime a license to kill its own people. The French Foreign Minister warned that the countries that blocked this resolution would bear heavy historical responsibilities, euphemistically referring to Russia and China. The U.S. ambassador Sue Rice expressed her disgust at the veto on the parts of both Russia and China.

Russia started its reversal of democratisation once Putin replaced Yeltsin as the President. The Russians will decide whether or not there will be a comeback of a Soviet style autocracy. If the Russians are willing to send Putin back to the Kremlin, making a third Putin Presidency, then they will surely be a step closer to the political era before the Soviet dissolution. The ballot papers are in the hands of the Russian people, and so their fate is in their own hands.

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What China has done this time is exactly the same as it did with its decision four months ago. The Chinese regime is very clear about the nature of this zero-sum game. One mistake at any juncture may lead to a debacle, which could destabilise their national leadership. Despite the fact that the political turmoil is happening in the Middle East, it is still, in the eyes of the Politburo, a mounting influence against the Chinese government.

If China had not vetoed this resolution, it would likely have encouraged more Chinese people to bargain for their own political rights. The Chinese government is already busy dealing with the growing problem of hundreds of thousands of mass protests each year, costing an enormous financial overhead that is higher than its military expenditure. At this point in time, to support this resolution would have been a public form of self-admonishment with a significant risk of bringing its own demise.

With its autocratic political allies in the Middle East falling one after another, from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in the past, to Syria at the present, and to Yemen and Bahrain in the future, China could become totally isolated in the autocratic world as a result.

The Chinese government did the same to its civilians and particularly its students in 1989. Assad and Gaddafi were both students of the Beijing autocracy. How can we expect Beijing withdraw support from likeminded dictators? If this resolution of sanctions against the Assad regime had been passed, it could have legitimised Western sanctions against the Chinese government in the event that Beijing should try to quell future democratic movements in China. In light of the knowledge that PRC policies have much in common with the Assad policies, it is clear that in the name of self-survival, the Chinese government had no option but to vote against the U.S resolution on Syria without hesitation.

If the Western nations headed by the US, Britain and France, try to raise this resolution once again, the outcome will still remain the same. China will continue to vote against, even if Russia submits to world pressure. One-vote veto is allowed in the U.N., which empowers China to say ‘No’ to the West in its own right. China possesses a wealth of patriots, who have long desired to say ‘No’ to the West. The Chinese government is willing to ‘submit’ to such ‘civil appeals’ and to exploit the rules set by the U.N. Security Council.

Possible signs that Russia may take a sidestep on this issue are already apparent, as there is still some sort of press freedom in Russia, and the Russian media is criticising its government’s current decision. The Chinese regime is fully aware of the importance of interdependence between allies. It is highly likely that China will face the West on its own in the next round, in an attempt to rescue its ‘Holy Alliance’ of autocracies, which includes the Assad regime.

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The U.N. was established after the Second World War, and advocates justice and peace. It has honorable ideals and objectives, which may not always be realised. The ultimate reason behind this shortfall of U.N. achievement is the radical difference of understanding about justice of peace between the great powers and their different political systems.

It is outstandingly clear to the West that inflicting a massacre amongst one’s own people is a severe crime against humanity. But to the Chinese leadership it means something totally different. Human lives are a far lower priority than the sanctity and protection of the Party. Therefore, people’s lives are nowhere near as precious as protection of authoritarian power to the Chinese government. The superior cause of internal stability and thus priority on the maintenance of the autocratic regime serves as the highest political pursuit of the Chinese leadership.

In the face of the ruthless mass killings inflicted by the Assad regime upon its own people, the West and the international community must now bypass the U.N. Security Council in order to resolve the problem. As long as China is present, no sanctions upon the Syrian regime under the authority of the U.N. will be possible. Further attempts to pass this resolution in the Security Council will only lead to more Syrian civilian casualties.

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Article edited by Jo Coghlan.
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About the Author

Chin Jin is an M.A. graduate of the University of Western Sydney and Chair of the Federation For A Democratic China, Australia.

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