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Syrian conflict

China’s role in Syria’s endless civil war

Beijing has shied away from playing a direct part in the bloody conflict, but it has joined Moscow in resisting Western efforts to sanction Damascus

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 April, 2017, 5:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 April, 2017, 11:25pm

Beijing’s position on Syria has not been entirely clear since the country’s civil war broke out six years ago. But it has teamed up with Moscow since then to veto any UN proposals sponsored by the West to sanction the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Unlike Russia, which has directly intervened in Syria by launching air strikes, Beijing has tried to keep a safe distance from the conflict. It has insisted that the fate of Assad’s government be decided by the Syrian people, and opposed any interference by foreign powers.

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In February, Beijing backed Russia by casting its sixth veto to protect Assad’s government from Security Council action, blocking a bid by Western powers to impose sanctions over accusations of a chemical weapons attack. It was the seventh time Russia has used its veto power to block Western-sponsored sanctions on Syria since the start of the civil war, which has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and left many more homeless.

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In October 2011, China first joined Russia in vetoing a council resolution, in this case drafted by France, Germany, Portugal and Britain. It demanded that Syrian authorities stop using force against civilians and allow the exercise of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and other rights.

Li Baodong, China’s representative to the UN, said the resolution did not facilitate easing the situation in Syria and did not comply with UN principles of non-interference in internal affairs.

Military relations between China and Syria

Despite opposing UN sanctions on Syria, China has been getting more involved in the country in recent years.

Rear Admiral Guan Youfei, who sits on China’s Central Military Commission, said last year that the PLA would be willing to continue exchanges and cooperation with the Syrian military, including providing training. Last March, China also named Xie Xiaoyan, former ambassador to Iran, as its special envoy to Syria.

Beijing has its own security concerns in the Middle East. State media have blamed violence in Xinjiang on extremists from an East Turkestan faction who were trained in Syria.

Beijing’s stance on Russia’s military action in Syria

Moscow launched its first air strikes in rebel-controlled areas of Syria in September 2015.

Russia said Islamic State militants were the target of these attacks, although Syrian opposition activists and Western officials said they mainly targeted “moderate” rebel groups, including US-trained fighters not associated with Islamic State.

Chinese envoy Xie has praised Russia’s military role in the war, calling it “part of international counterterrorism efforts”.

Beijing’s relationship with President Assad

Assad visited Beijing in 2004, four years after he took office in 2000.

In his meeting with then Chinese president Hu Jintao, Assad described China as a close friend of Syria and welcomed Chinese investment in the country.

In an interview with Russia’s Sputnik news agency in March last year, Assad said he welcomed companies from Russia, China and Iran – the three countries he said had supported Syria during its destructive civil war – to take part in reconstruction of the country.

In another interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV that aired last month, Assad hailed Beijing’s part in vetoing UN sanctions on Syria.

He also confirmed that China was directly involved in building many projects, mainly industrial ones, in Syria, including the participation of Chinese experts working in Syria.