Appointment of a special envoy gives China the chance to broker an honest peace in Syria
As ambassador Xie Xiaoyan has said, his role offers a chance to “more actively contribute China’s wisdom and solutions” to protracted civil war
China’s lack of historic and political baggage in the Middle East puts it in a strong position to be a key mediator in bringing lasting peace to Syria. The appointment of career diplomat and former ambassador to Iran, Xie Xiaoyan, as Beijing’s special envoy to the crisis, offers the best hope yet that warring sides can strike an amicable deal. Vested interests taint negotiators from Russia, the US and the European Union. A lack of direct Chinese involvement in the five-year-old conflict and care not to openly side with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has given a perception of China being an honest broker.
The same approach was adopted to great acclaim in seven-party negotiations with Iran that led last July to an accord over its nuclear programme. As a largely neutral partner in two-year talks that resulted in limiting development in exchange for inspections and a gradual lifting of sanctions, Beijing was able to be a credible mediator when bargaining deadlocked. In keeping with a non-interventionist foreign policy, it sought a political settlement rather than using force and embargos.
China’s position on Syria has always been that negotiations are the only way to settle the civil war. Instead of joining fellow UN Security Council members on the region’s battlefields, it has been getting gradually involved in mediation by hosting meetings with Syria’s foreign minister and opposition groups.
Beijing long shied away from the Middle East’s conflicts, focusing on protecting expanding oil and gas, business and investment interests. But its rising global stature and accusations of free-riding on the security measures of other nations have forced a change. Peace and stability in the Mideast is also essential if the “One Belt, One Road” initiative is to succeed. Special envoys have previously been appointed to the Middle East and South Sudan, to mixed results, while President Xi Jinping (習近平) made a landmark trip to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran in January. Xie’s appointment gives, as he said in Beijing last Friday, a chance to “more actively contribute China’s wisdom and solutions”.