The role of China in Syria crisis

United States and Russia are not the only players in the Syrian crisis. In fact, a prominent role is played by China, also interested in the resolution of the conflict that have been tearing, for more than three years, the Middle Eastern country. Beijing, along with Moscow, has used three times the veto power in the UN Security Council to block the U.S. proposals aimed to punish the Bashar al-Assad regime. At the same time, China has shown itself as strong supporter of dialogue between government forces and opposition as a unique and desirable solution to the conflict.

Chinese position towards Syrian crisis can be summarized in five points expressed by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the opening of Geneva 2, the negotiating table started on January 22 with the aim of overcoming the conflict between the parties: political resolution; no outside interference; inclusiveness in transition process and national reconciliation, unity, and commitment to humanitarian assistance[1].Superficially, Chinese action in Syria could be interpreted as a simple act of interference against the United States, supporters of the international intervention to remove the Syrian leader, but hides much deeper motivations that respond to the chronic insecurity that drives Chinese foreign policy.

With no external interference, in addition of defending a cornerstone of its foreign policy, China is opposed to any suggestion of tightening the already tense situation in the Middle East. A worsening of the crisis in Syria, threatening the start of a regional conflict, would lead to unimaginable dangers for Beijing in terms of energy supplies that make the Middle East so vital to the livelihood of the Chinese economy. Regional instability could cause serious problems for trade and oil imports. The surging Chinese economic growth cannot afford any stops[2].

Saying “no” to the military intervention not only protects the economic interests, albeit basic, but responds to a specific political logic. The goal is to block western claims of direct intervention in the domestic affairs of individual countries so as safeguarding China itself from the threat of meddling in its internal and turbulent affairs.

Syrian crisis is also interesting because of the Sunnis and Shiites discord, whose aggressivenessBeijing isinterested observer. Among its reasons ofinternal instability,China central governmenthasthe Uighurs, Turkic minority Sunni northwestern region of Xinjiang ,claiming autonomy from Beijing, which became protagonist of several terrorist attacks. The linkage between this group and the Syrian conflict is described by the participation of several jidahist Chinese formations in the violence taking place in the Middle Eastern country. Avoiding a disastrous fall of the Shiite Assad means for Beijing the defense of someone whose fall would legitimize this exceedingly dangerous minority that threaten the internal stability and the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party[3].

The five points of Wang Yi show several weaknesses due to the lack of clarity on the measures necessary to put these ideas into effect. The third and fourth points are those more difficult to achieve in light of the political scenario in Syria. Geneva 2, however, achieves the goal professed by Beijing several times since the outbreak of the Civil War: an opportunity for a political solution to the Syrian conflict to ensure the regional and international stability.The necessity of the second, in the light of western opposition about Chinese use of veto, led the Communist Party of China to show its full support to the hypothesis collaborative, not hesitating to send their boats to assist with the decommissioning of chemical weapons Syrian[4]. In this way, Beijing is trying to not tarnish its international image and its soft power play despite the many criticisms that Beijing’s actions in the world, and not only in Syria, continue to generate. Defending a positive international image is important for China’s political and economic interests.

Demetrio Labate

Master’s degree in International Relations (University of Bologna)


[1] S. Tiezzi, China at Geneva II: Beijing’s Interest in Syria, The Diplomat, January 22, 2014.

[2] K. Kuo, Insecurity drives China’s Syria policy, The Diplomat, September 10, 2013.

[3] L. Capisani, La posizione cinese sulla Siria: il veto contro l’intervento occidentale, ISPI, August 29, 2013.

[4] H. ShahJ. Hanna, Chinese ship arrives to help in removal of Syrian chemical weapons materials, CNN, January 9, 2014.

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