Nice piece of turnabout by Ian Black on Russia’s veto of the Syria motion at the UN these days. China’s decision has got a bit less attention. The thing is, the PRC has vetoed six Security Council motions since its accession in 1972. Two of these have been in the past three months; and both of those were over Syria.
Unless we assume that China has a specific and highly developed liking for a no-mark like Assad, it’s hard not to see this as a response to Libya. That motion was far more interventionist than the one on Saturday; yet China let it go through with an abstention, which seemed to be its usual policy up until recently. This is in line with frequent complaints that its understanding of how the Libyan resolution was implemented was at variance with the campaign that actually took place.
What Saturday’s resolution did was replicate the Arab League’s call for Assad to stand down, which given that he won’t paves the way for another resolution noting that Assad had defied the will of the Security Council, which in turn paves the way for something big, baggy and permissive. So from Beijing’s point of view, it’s best to intervene against intervention now.
In conclusion, after a bit of a flirtation with the idea of responsibility to protect last year, China, along with Russia, has decided to kill the whole idea, at least as practiced through the UN. Secondly, we’re seeing a much more aggressive assertion of Beijing’s traditional non-intervention stance, something that may well play out beyond the region.
Meanwhile, in Syria, things seem to be carrying on much as they were before. The difference since Saturday so far is that the notion that there’s a civil war in Syria has magically become conventional wisdom as well as being true.