Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Why China didn't back U.N. plan for Syria

By Jaime A. FlorCruz, CNN
February 10, 2012 -- Updated 0252 GMT (1052 HKT)
Supporters of Syria's president wave Russian, Chinese and Syrian flags during a pro-regime rally in central Damascus.
Supporters of Syria's president wave Russian, Chinese and Syrian flags during a pro-regime rally in central Damascus.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • China joined Russia in using its veto to block a U.N. Security Council draft resolution on Syria
  • China's use of veto marks a significant change in Beijing's diplomatic tack, local media says
  • Some analysts say the move shows Beijing's fear that political upheaval will spread to China

Editor's note: "Jaime's China" is a weekly column about Chinese society and politics. Jaime FlorCruz has lived and worked in China since 1971. He studied Chinese history at Peking University (1977-81) and served as TIME Magazine's Beijing correspondent and bureau chief (1982-2000).

(CNN) -- China will sometimes say "no" and the world should get used to it.

That message came through last weekend when China, one of five permanent U.N. Security Council members, joined Russia in blocking action on Syria.

Their vetoes derailed a draft resolution condemning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's 11-month-old attempt to crush opposition groups and demanding an end to attacks on peaceful protesters.

"Do not mistakenly think that because China takes a careful and responsible position on this [Syria] issue, China will not use its veto power or will always abstain," said Cui Tiankai, China's vice foreign minister.

Rice: Assad's days are numbered
China's view of the Syria crisis
Hillary Clinton disgusted over UN veto

"When China must use its veto power, it will surely use it."

On Saturday, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called the vetoes "disgusting and shameful."

"Those that have blocked potentially the last effort to resolve this peacefully ... will have any future blood spill on their hands," she said after the voting.

But Cui said there is nothing unusual for the five permanent members of the Security Council to disagree on certain issues.

Speaking at a press briefing Thursday on the eve of a visit to the United States by Xi Jinping, the Chinese vice president, Cui said America's displeasure over China's veto will not affect China-U.S. cooperation on other international issues.

In China, the veto was hailed by local media as a significant change in Beijing's diplomatic tack.

China needs to speak out. Hiding its true thinking does not help avoid trouble.
Editoria on Syria in China's state-run Global Times

"Abstaining is no longer always a choice as China is forced to speak out," according to an editorial in the state-run Global Times, an official English-language daily.

"China needs to speak out. Hiding its true thinking does not help avoid trouble."

The Global Times said China's veto does not indicate a China-Russia alliance. "Both China and Russia have their own interests and dignity," it added.

He Wenping, director of African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said the veto shows China's confidence in foreign affairs. "A country expressing its true opinion -- that's progress," he said.

So why did China use its veto this time?

"China opposes the use of threat or force to achieve regime change in other countries," said He Wenping. "This is consistent with China's long-standing diplomacy principle. It is also not acceptable for China to rush a [U.N.] vote without sufficient consultation."

China, she added, does not wish see a reprise of what she considers a debacle over Libya.

"On Libya, NATO misused the rights given by the U.N. resolution about setting up the no-fly zone, which was then turned into 'regime change' in Libya," she said.

Ruan Zongze, a senior researcher at the China Institute of International Studies, agreed: "What concerns China most is possible regime change and foreign military intervention," he said. "We ask the international community to give more space and time for dialogue within Syria."

On February 6, the state-run People's Daily wrote in an editorial: "It is Syrian people's democratic right to choose a government they want. But hatred and separatists will remain a challenge no matter who is ruling, the government has to stabilize the country and protect people's safety. It will still come down to the problem of peace among nations and tribes."

China is ranked as the third-largest supplier of imports to Syria in 2010, according to data from the European Commission.

But local experts downplay the scale of China's stakes and national interests in Syria.

"Compared with Russia, China does not have that much interest in Syria and in the Middle East," He Wenping said. "Of course, in the greater Middle East, we need and we depend on the energy, say, the oil coming from the region."

Liu Weimin, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, rejected criticisms of China's veto.

"China does not have its own selfish interest on the issue of Syria," he said in a news conference. "We do not deliberately shelter or oppose any country. Instead, we uphold justice in dealing with the issue."

But China's critics say China's veto of the U.N. draft resolution was in part due to Beijing's fear that allowing a regime change in Syria could encourage the spread of the Arab revolution and eventually threaten China.

He Wenping disagrees.

"In my opinion, more than 99% of Chinese do not want to see an Arab Spring revolution in China, and they do not believe that there will be one in China," she says.

"China has a completely different political system and economic development path. If someone in the international community thinks that the Arab Spring will happen in China, then I think they misjudge the situation in China, exaggerate some problems in the Chinese society and underestimate the ability of the Chinese government to control the situation in China."

As to Ambassador Susan Rice's blunt reaction to China's and Russia's vetoes, He Wenping quips: "I think the statement shows utter lack of diplomatic protocol. The statement itself is disgusting."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0153 GMT (0953 HKT)
China is building an island in the South China Sea that could accommodate an airstrip, according to IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
North Korean refugees face a daunting journey to reach asylum in South Korea, with gangs of smugglers the only option.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 2319 GMT (0719 HKT)
China and "probably one or two other" countries have the capacity to shut down the nation's power grid and other critical infrastructure.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1039 GMT (1839 HKT)
It'd be hard to find another country that has spent as much, and as furiously, as China on giving its next generation a head start.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0532 GMT (1332 HKT)
In 1985, Meng Weina set up China's first private special needs school in the southern city of Guangzhou.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 2014 GMT (0414 HKT)
Despite China's inexorable economic rise, the U.S. is still an indispensable ally, especially in Asia. No one knows this more than the Asian giant's leaders, writes Kerry Brown.
November 13, 2014 -- Updated 0338 GMT (1138 HKT)
For the United States and China to announce a plan reducing carbon emissions by almost a third by the year 2030 is a watershed moment for climate politics on so many fronts.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 2026 GMT (0426 HKT)
China shows off its new stealth fighter jet, but did it steal the design from an American company? Brian Todd reports.
November 11, 2014 -- Updated 0101 GMT (0901 HKT)
Airshow China in Zhuhai provides a rare glimpse of China's military and commercial aviation hardware.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1314 GMT (2114 HKT)
A new exchange initiative aims to bridge relations between the two countries .
November 11, 2014 -- Updated 0551 GMT (1351 HKT)
Xi and Abe's brief summit featured all the enthusiasm of two unhappy schoolboys forced to make up after a schoolyard dust-up.
November 11, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
Maybe you've decided to show your partner love with a new iPhone. But how about 99 of them?
November 3, 2014 -- Updated 0219 GMT (1019 HKT)
Can China's Muslim minority fit in? One school is at the heart of an ambitious experiment to assimilate China's Uyghurs.
November 4, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is one of thousands of Americans learning Chinese.
November 4, 2014 -- Updated 0500 GMT (1300 HKT)
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou says he needs to maintain good economic ties with China while trying to keep Beijing's push for reunification at bay.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 0528 GMT (1328 HKT)
Chinese drone-maker DJI wants to make aerial photography drones mainstream despite concerns about privacy.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 0518 GMT (1318 HKT)
A top retired general confesses to taking bribes, becoming the highest-profile figure in China's military to be caught up in war on corruption.
ADVERTISEMENT