China’s View on Syria Crisis: America’s “Hidden Motivations” Are Leading It Astray

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Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

President Xi Jinping at The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, Calif., June 7, 2013.

When it comes to international affairs, China has tended to either retire from the limelight or snipe from the sidelines. But on Syria, Beijing’s opposition to possible American intervention echoes the consensus from much of the rest of the world. Last week, China’s leader Xi Jinping opined that a “political solution is the only right way out for the Syrian crisis and a military strike cannot solve the problem from the root.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei reiterated that position on Sept. 12, saying that while Beijing is “opposed to whoever uses chemical weapons,” Chinese foreign-policy makers also “always oppose the use of force in international relations.” Any solo American military strike, Hong said, ran counter to “international law and the basic norms governing international relations.”

(MORE: Russia, Iran Hail Syria’s Decision to Sign Chemical Weapons Pact)

For the last couple decades, China’s foreign policy has been publicly governed by a philosophy of not meddling in other nations’ internal affairs — presumably because Beijing didn’t want the rest of the world butting into its business either. But as China’s economic relations with developing nations have deepened, its diplomats have gotten busier, too. Earlier this summer, China even tried to untangle one of the most intractable foreign policy knots: peace in the Middle East. The diplomatic foray fizzled. But the fact that it occurred at all may signal Beijing’s new willingness to engage internationally.

Diplomatic negotiations, of course, are far different from the military intervention that the U.S. is mulling over. Earlier this month, the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece, ran a piece with its take on American ambitions in Syria:

“It seems that the U.S. is very righteous, but America has its own hidden motivation. In America’s Middle East strategy, Syria is a country that does not acknowledge allegiance to America but is instead allied with America’s regional rival Iran. That’s why Syria is a thorn in America’s flesh. Since the 2011 Arab uprising, America has hoped there would be regime change in Syria … However, the rebels are so divided that they can not overthrow the Syrian government and now they have almost been defeated by the Syrian government so the American government is very anxious … America is eager to use military intervention, and the rumor that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against the rebels is a perfect excuse for America to launch an attack on Syria.”

Meanwhile, members of the Chinese public have used Weibo, the popular Chinese microblogging service, to chime in on Syria, too. On Sept. 11, a photo circulated of what was identified as a Syrian girl holding up a sign in Arabic criticizing China’s veto of a U.N. resolution against the Syrian regime: “To China: your morals are worse than your products.” Responded one Weibo user: “You should add one word: ‘government.’ The government did this, not the Chinese people.”

MORE: Global Leaders Embrace Diplomacy After Obama’s Climbdown Over Syria Strikes