Chinese Support of Assad; duplicitous and obvious

China vetoes the latest condemnation of Syria at the UN

Echoing the tone of many opinion pieces in the Western media, I too was initially confused by China’s outspoken support of the violent Syrian regime, both in the UN and through their press. The brutal year-long crackdown on Arab Spring protestors in the country has had left the Syrian government under ever weightier pressure from the UN and in the world media. This pressure has not only emanated from the West but also from the rest of the world, to the point where, barring Syria’s three active friends; Iran, Russia and China (and the “ALBA” nations of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua), the United Nations has come together to push for an official condemnation. But nothing has, or will, come of it; the international community’s efforts have been, time and again, vetoed by the small pro-Assad bloc. What is confusing to most is that China’s veto against the anti-Assad measures makes no real sense. China has no strong connections to the regime, nothing to gain from Assad by shielding it, and by supporting Syria, has very publicly isolated itself. All of this is especially confusing when it is noted that Russia was doing enough to protect the Kremlin-friendly Assad regime on its own; China had no tangible reason to get involved.

Looking through recent Chinese media discussion on the issue however, I’m no longer confused by China’s behaviour. Chinese support of Assad seems to have been tied neatly into the CPC’s diplomatic and ideological policy of opposition to the West.

Most blatantly; in papers and news sites across the country, Chinese newspapers have been wont to quote the Syrian state news agency SANA at its word while casting aspersions on other voices. Meanwhile Chinese state media has downplayed the government shelling of civilian areas, continually referred to the rebel groups as “terrorists” and cast aspersions on the credibility and ingenuousness of Western concerns. Journalists in China have not blanketed the conflict completely as they did with the opening half of the Libyan revolution; instead they are speaking out as if in chorus. Their consensus seems to be that regarding outside actors, it is the West and its allies not the Russian and Chinese led pro- Assad bloc that is to blame for the lack of a solution. Citing some nation’s propensity toward arming Syrian rebels and the US and EU’s political actions against Assad, an article from China Daily claimed that their intransigence is “only prolonging the bloodshed and making it harder to reach a peaceful solution”. The article went on to boldly claim that American condemnation of China and Russia’s pro- Assad stance was immoral, “opposing the desires of the Syrian people” and standing in the way of the nation’s stability. It comes as little surprise that the article concluded that contrary to the West, that China’s relationship and attitude towards with the Arab world was sincere, long-established, and in the Arab people’s best interests.

A similar article released late last year, this time about the end of the West’s military involvement in Libya, made the case that Western concerns in Libya amounted to little more than a smash and grab that was also intended to counter  Chinese influence in the region. The article concluded grandly that “the fall of Gaddafi is not the triumph of good over evil, but a triumph of the former colonial rulers in reshaping the African economic map”. This Bush- era conspiracy; that Western democratic altruism is always a cover for financial greed is still quite trendy in China and has been trundled out time and again to attack the Western moral character.

The strategy has also been utilised in the Chinese media to also imply Machiavellian moves by the US to reorder the balance of power in the region re Syria. Multiple Global Times articles released in early 2012 argue for the legitimacy of the Assad government by combating calls for UN intervention, despite the violent human rights abuses perpetrated. These articles claim that American behaviour in the Middle East is simply explained; “crumpling up Syria would mean cutting off an important arm of Iran”, and that China, seeing itself as a marginalised world player “now sees the need to confront it”.

The scapegoating and denigration of the US is a time-honoured practice for the CPC harking back to the days of the Cultural Revolution, though originally it was implied most often on an East Asian scale. As China’s ambitions grow, it is natural that the CPC narrative has the West plotting not just against Chinese people, but now all non Western people’s across the world. Never mind that the actors on the ground most recently in Syria (and previously in Libya) had openly stated that peace with each other was (and should be) unpalatable, making intervention necessary to protect civilians. Forget also that further atrocities have been committed and encouraged while Russian and Chinese political action protected these authoritarian regimes and that US governmental and corporate assistance was vital in keeping Egypt’s recent revolution relatively bloodless. Perhaps there is some truth in Chinese allegations of Western hypocrisy however; the US has supported its fair share of dictators and still does in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other African and Middle Eastern nations. Credibility issues crop up with China’s world view when they claim that Western intervention against dictatorships is wholly calculated though; the moral indignation felt in the West against repressive regimes is certainly real. It can also be argued that political support for authoritarianism after Bush jr. has certainly waned in the West as the political realism that marked the Cold War is slowly being replaced by ‘the peace of democracies’.

Assad and Ahmadinejad

China meanwhile, for all it’s talk of supporting the oppressed people of the world has many close relationships with authoritarian regimes and is one itself, a fact that prompts China to relentlessly ‘square the circle’; it sells itself and its authoritarian friends as nice guy alternatives to the West. The Chinese media has no problem for example implying that Iran’s political system is less repressive and nicer than America’s, or in echoing Tehran’s propaganda; that the Arab Spring protests (which the Iranians ruthlessly crushed in their own country) were inspired by the Ayatollah. The Global Times even argued recently that Western concerns about the obvious corruption and bullying at the vote this year in the Russian elections “is a way for the West to bring about splits in Russian society” and that Putin’s re-election reflected the will of the Russian people.

The PRC has a right to oppose the US through diplomatic channels and through other apparatuses of its soft power base, but it needs to be honest about itself and its complaints against Western hegemony first. Paranoid conspiracies, scapegoating others and obvious acts of duplicity will not win it the morality arm-wrestling match it has engaged in with the West… publicly supporting murderous and callous despots does not help either.

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