China opposes Western air strikes on Syria, calls for talks
Beijing accuses US-led operation of complicating efforts to find a solution to the crisis
Beijing voiced opposition to US-led air strikes against Syrian military targets on Saturday and called for talks, adding that the Western operation had complicated efforts to find a solution to the crisis.
“Any unilateral military action violates the United Nations charter and its principles and international law and its principles. [The strikes] are also going to add more factors to complicate the resolution of the Syrian crisis,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement on Saturday afternoon.
Beijing also called for an investigation into claims of a Syrian poison gas attack on the rebel-held town of Douma that rescuers and monitors say killed more than 40 people, and prompted the Western action.
“The Chinese side believes a comprehensive, impartial and objective investigation should be conducted into the suspected chemical attacks and it should come up with reliable conclusions ... Before this, no conclusion by any side should be made,” Hua said.
Hua also said the Chinese embassy in Damascus was in close contact with Chinese citizens in the country.
“So far they are all safe,” she said.
Beijing was responding to air strikes by the United States, Britain and France carried out on what the US said were three chemical weapons facilities – one scientific facility near Damascus and two storage facilities near Homs.
More than 100 missiles were fired and the air strikes lasted no more than 70 minutes.
On Saturday, Trump tweeted: “Mission Completed”, and thanked Britain and France for the “perfectly executed strike”.
A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 14, 2018
Announcing the strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, US President Donald Trump branded last week’s alleged poison gas attack the “crimes of a monster”.
A few minutes later, an AFP correspondent in Damascus heard a series of huge blasts and residents rushed to their balconies. For around 45 minutes, explosions echoed and the sound of warplanes roared over the city, as flashes flared in the distance.
Syrian state media reported only three people injured and Russia’s defence ministry said there were “no victims” among Syrian civilians and military personnel.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said no additional strikes were planned. “Right now this is a one-time shot,” he said.
Syria’s regime, which has repeatedly denied any use of chemical weapons, immediately denounced the strikes as “brutal, barbaric aggression” that was “doomed to fail”.
Russia said it was calling an emergency session of the UN Security Council to discuss the “aggressive actions” of the United States and its allies.
“Without the sanction of the UN Security Council, in breach of the UN charter and the norms and principles of international law, an act of aggression was committed against a sovereign state,” the Kremlin said.
The Russian military said the allies had fired 103 cruise missiles including Tomahawk missiles but that Syrian air defence systems managed to intercept 71 of them.
Inspectors with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were due later Saturday to start work on a probe into the events of April 7 in Douma, the last rebel-held pocket of the onetime opposition stronghold of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for calm, delaying a planned trip to Saudi Arabia to deal with the aftermath of the military action.
“I urge all member states to show restraint in these dangerous circumstances,” he said in a statement.
Beijing-based military analyst Li Jie said Beijing should stand with Russia as tensions rose between China and the United States.
“In this case, I think Beijing should stand firmly with Russia over the Syria issue. China is unlikely to send troops to Syria, but China would be on the same page as Russia when it comes to issues like supporting the Syrian government,” Li said.
Li Weijian, a Middle East expert at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said China had been working quietly on the Syria crisis.
“Beijing has been trying to mediate between the US and Russia. Beijing has good relations with the Syrian government as well as the moderate opposition parties, and China’s special envoy to Syria often travels to Syria. This could help increase China’s influence in the region,” Li Weijian said.
He said he did not think the air strikes would develop into a full-blown conflict.
“Similar strikes happened last April with a similar pretext,” he said.
“Such air strikes don’t mean that the US is going to return to the Middle East. Trump is unlikely to put more resources into the Middle East when there is little benefit for him. What Trump wants is very clear – he wants something practical, like the trade war with China, which he believes could bring more jobs to the US.”