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After Veto, What China Can Still Do to Ease Assad Out

Richard Weitz

China’s decision to join Russia in vetoing a UN Security Council resolution that could have led to economic sanctions against Syria unless it ceased using heavy weapons against civilians was unsurprising. After all, the pair had teamed to veto two earlier Council resolutions that had also aimed to pressure Assad to moderate his policies or leave office.

The UN Security Council had to decide by July 20 what to do with the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), whose initial 90-day mandate expires then. Beijing and Moscow have joined in opposing any measures that might have led to the use of military force, economic sanctions, or other enforcement action against Assad. In the case of Beijing, sovereignty is the watchword, and a sense of betrayal over the mission creep that extended the efforts in Libya colored today’s decision. But with less to lose than Russia, there is yet more that Beijing might do to deescalate tensions; and Western players would do well to recognize China’s concerns.

The Western-backed resolution that they vetoed today would have extended UNSMIS for 45 days, but also would place Annan’s peace plan under chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which would allow the Council to authorize diplomatic and economic sanctions or even military intervention, though its backers denied that they would soon seek UN authorization to use military force.

(…)What China Sees in the Bloodshed—In explaining today’s veto, the Chinese government criticized the proposed resolution for being unbalanced, one-sided, and encouraging the regime’s opponents to keep fighting rather than engage in dialogue and compromise.

Li Baodong, China’s permanent representative to the UN, also claimed that the resolution’s intent was to legitimize the use of force against the regime. 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.

“We have all along maintained that the prospect and destiny of Syria should be independently determined by the Syrian people, rather than imposed by outside forces,” Li said. “We believe the Syrian issue must be resolved through political means, and military means would go nowhere.”

Chinese leaders have strongly supported traditional interpretations of national sovereignty that severely restrict the right of foreign powers or international organizations to intervene in a country’s internal affairs.

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