China has now joined Russia in twice rejecting draft UN Security Council resolutions that would seek to pressure President Bashar al-Assad to end its brutal repression of the anti-regime protesters. Interestingly, China, unlike Russia, is motivated primarily by principles rather than concrete strategic and economic interests in Syria. And China, unlike Russia, seems more open to changing its position.
For the past two decades, PRC leaders have typically opposed foreign military interventions seeking to change a regime. For example, they have regularly objected to U.S. and NATO military operations in the Middle East. But they also showed their lack of enthusiasm for Russia’s August 2008 military intervention by refusing to recognize the resulting independence declarations of the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The Chinese government still generally upholds a traditional interpretation of national sovereignty that severely restrict the right of foreign powers or international organizations to intervene in a country’s internal affairs. In the case of Syria, PRC officials claimed that the resolution’s backers were trying to interfere in the internal affairs of a UN member country by seeking to change its regime in pursuit of their larger goals of controlling the region.
PRC officials have refused to back proposals to force Assad from office. They argue that it is improper for the international community to make such demands since the issue of Syria’s leadership should be determined by the Syrian people themselves. Furthermore, Chinese analysts do not think that Assad’s resignation would end the fighting. Instead of pacifying Assad’s opponents, they fear that it will only encourage them to escalate their demands, a dynamic they already see in play.