China’s responses to the turmoil in Syria over the past two years have been relatively consistent. From the very beginning, Beijing has maintained a firm position that the only solution to the crisis is a political one and that Syria’s sovereignty must be respected. And along with Russia, China has vetoed three United Nations Security Council draft resolutions on Syria. The reason is simple: Beijing objects to external interventions in sovereign states’ internal affairs.
There are obvious reasons for this uncompromising adherence to the principles enshrined in the Westphalian system. While the international community’s call for action to stop the continued killing and atrocities in Syria is very much driven by humanitarian concerns based on principles of civilian protection and the responsibility to protect, Beijing argues that unilateral military intervention is at odds with international law and will only make matters worse. In this view, any forced settlement, including regime change, will not be a stable one.
Moreover, Beijing has deep concerns over the precedent any military intervention might set, which it fears the U.S.-led Western powers could subsequently use to topple regimes they don’t like. Libya is a case in point. While China was not in favor of intervention there, it nonetheless abstained from voting on the Security Council resolution establishing a no-fly zone to protect civilians. To Beijing’s displeasure, the United States and NATO subsequently seized on a broad reading of the mandate and launched air strikes against the Libyan government, ultimately ousting the Gadhafi regime.