Written by Sam Beatson.
The US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, promised more weapons to Syrian rebels this week in speech confirming that: “the US position has not changed…We still say that Bashar Al-Assad must resign, he must resign. And the Syrians must create a new transitional government that excludes him and his inner circle.”
He echoes the words of William Hague, foreign secretary to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, made around September 1st of last year : “His [Assad’s] regime is doomed and the international community must plan rapid support to a new government in Syria, now!”
The public defence of Assad has been that rebel groups in Syria are far from moderate and he went on to call Hague’s recent accusation in March that he [Assad] is ‘deluded’ part of a ‘shallow and immature rhetoric’, highlighting his view that Britain has a ‘tradition of bullying and hegemony’.
More recently came the announcement that Israel had used jets to bomb a weapons convoy bound for consumption by Hezbollah. The US has publicly accepted this attack without any sign of vilification.
However, the bombing can be viewed as a direct attack on Syria in light of exposition of facts, and for the third time. A source I deem reliable has clarified that the targets of Israeli bombing were in fact the barracks of ‘Brigade 14‘ – Bashar Al-Assad’s elite ‘royal guard’, the ammunition dump and the military research centre in the vicinity of Syria’s Mount Qasioun, practically a stone’s throw away from central Damascus.
Further analysis could suggest that such behaviour has no less intention than to attempt to provoke a reaction from nearby Iran, given that the military resources of Syria are tied up with the internal conflicts taking place. Such a reaction would give Israel more leverage to persuade the US that it should be allowed to attack Iran now on the basis of its nuclear capabilities.
It should be noted also that the rebels in Syria are by no means innocents fighting repression by a brutal regime. They have murdered civilian children, placed bombs in the pockets of university students, taken UN workers hostage and targeted the families of Shi’ite clerics and faith adherents. They have tortured, maimed and/or killed some of their captives.
Assad maintains that he has been willing to negotiate on the basis of arms surrender but at the same time that rebels are a terrorist group and thus his use of military force to quash the uprising justified. It is also interesting to note that the Lebanon has agreed with Israel’s version of events, stating that Hezbollah lives were lost. Of course though, the refugee fallout from a World War III starting in Iran and Syria could cause Lebanon to collapse. Now you will recall Russia and China’s vetoing UN sanctions against Syria.
In this situation, China has followed principle. In fact, China has followed a Taoist wuji (‘boundless’) principle – that of non-action. The veto was a non-action and following the principle of staying out of the affairs of state of another country is also a kind of non-action. And yet paradoxically these are two powerful actions and actions that show humility and strength.
A further paradox is that this strength is in the form of an admission of weakness in that China has significant interests in Iran, for example, but it is not taking a position that could lead to conflict directly. The indirect admission of weakness is that China knows that numbers aside it neither possesses the military strategic capacity nor the desire to engage in a military struggle against world military hegemonists.
Powers outside of China and Russia can interpret the non-action principle as a threatening or irresponsible action, when it is the polar opposite, rather it is the yielding principle of wu wei (non-doing). This implies moral vilification of China, however, on balance of facts, the arguments of the Western statesmen are unconvincing (UK) and inappropriate (US) – whoever deserved respect for saying from the outside what another country “must” do?
In non-doing, in minding its own business, China throws light on the intentions of UN minus China and Russia – i.e. regime change in Syria, vs the multilateral UN goal of resolution in Syria through peaceful dialogue. At the same time, China granted favour to Russia (having direct interests in Syria) which implies a diplomatic debt obligation. As regards its interests in Iran, without recourse to bargaining or aggressive diplomacy, surely China has thrown its dependency on the Tao. Developed nations should not need look far for where and how to learn from China.
Sam Beatson is a PhD student in the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies.