China’s Motivation for its Veto on the UN Syria Resolution
The veto of the UN draft resolution on the Syrian issue by China and Russia has incurred vehement criticism from the Western media.
However, let’s stop short of judging whether the move was right or wrong. To put it in terms familiar to the West, the vote was a result of democratic decision-making. As a member of the UN Security Council, China is fully entitled to make its own judgments and decisions in the settlement of disputes. As we know, the US has often vetoed resolutions voted for by other countries. On the peace issue involving Palestine and Israel, for instance, the US has vetoed no less than sixty UN resolutions.
Now let’s turn to the hard facts: The Security Council resolution was originally designed to curb a possible escalation of violence in Syria, an intention unanimously held by China, Russia ,the US, and Europe. The countries differed, however, in their belief in the efficacy of unilateral imposition of pressure on the Syrian government. The countries diverged on the best method for curbing violence and conflict. After the vote, however, the West completely shifted their strategy to call for regime change. According to Western logic, the Syrian government now in power must be toppled because it was the originator of the violence, and China and Russia were actually shielding a despotic regime and driving for their own ends in Syria by vetoing the UN resolution. The prevailing wisdom is that China and Russia should shoulder responsibility over the violence in Syria.
This is a clever trick, indeed. The plotter can come to its established goal – overthrow of the present Syrian government with its close associations with Iran, and it can also blame China and Russia for triggering the Syrian crisis of violence. However, from the very beginning of the Syrian crisis, China and Russia have called for its settlement through peaceful dialogue, while the US and some European countries have tilted more to one side of the disputing parties. They have continued to impose new pressure on the Syrian government, and yet have constantly incited anti-government forces into starting one trouble after another, an obvious fact that explains why the violence and conflicts in Syria have kept escalating.
Some countries have criticized China for its veto of the Security Council resolution, alleging it has exercised its right for its own interests in Syria. There is nothing new about this, when viewed from the West. China is always accused of driving its own interests in its oil supply whenever it disagrees with the West on a Middle East issue.
China’s real interests in Syria can actually be quantified as follows.
The volume of bilateral trade between China and Arab countries surpassed US$100 billion in 2010, and the two-way investment was higher than US$5.5 billion, according to statistics from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. Of this, the trade volume between China and Syria was merely US$2.48 billion, compared with US$43.18 billion in trade with Saudi Arabia and US$9.86 billion trade with Iraq which has not yet pulled itself out of war. China’s trade with the US, meanwhile, was nearly US$500 billion. By the end of 2010, China’s outstanding FDI in Syria’s non-financial sector stood at US$16.81 million, while the aggregated engineering and labor contract value secured by Chinese companies in Syria was US$1.82 billion and US$4.82 million, respectively. The total number of Chinese firms now operating in Syria is less than 30. Before Western sanctions, Syria exported 380,000 barrels of oil per day, with 95 per cent going to France, Italy, Holland, Austria and some other European countries, and without a single drop going to China
These figures speak for themselves. For the sake of its own interests, China would never have risked offending the US, Europe or the Gulf countries which hold greater weight. China does, however, have interests in the Syrian issue. China wishes to stand by and emphasize its diplomatic principle of independence and to reinforce its stand for maintaining world peace and regional stability. Its veto of the UN resolution does not signify its indifference to the Syrian crisis. On the contrary, it has been working to thaw the Syrian crisis through joint efforts by the international community, as evidenced by its recent plan to send mediation missions to countries involved.
Li Weijian is Director of the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies