Syria is not another Libya

Updated: 2011-10-21 08:05

By Wang Jinglie (China Daily)

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The Western media have been sensationalizing China's stance on Syria, with one of them saying: "China demanded that Syria's leader President Bashar al-Assad move toward faster political reform, a rare change of policy and a deviation from its usual refusal to intervene in the affairs of strategic allies."

That is a wrong analysis, for China's actions are aimed at restoring normalcy in the lives of the Syrian people as soon as possible and bringing back peace and stability in the Middle East.

After the change of governments in Egypt and Libya, Syria has been in the eye of the storm sweeping the Middle East. Thanks to the intervention of Western powers, especially the United States, violent conflicts between different groups in Syria have intensified, greatly raising the risk of civil war in the country.

With a population of 22.25 million and a territory of 185,000 square kilometers, Syria is a middle-sized country in the Middle East but plays a big role in the region because of its geographic importance. Since it shares its borders with countries like Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel, it has had to bear the brunt of Arab-Israeli conflicts and even lose its territory, the Golan Heights, to Israel.

Given these factors, it is impossible to restore peace in the region without the active participation of Syria. Besides, its cooperation with Iran, influence on Lebanon's Hezbollah party and the presence of 2 million Kurdish people within its territory make its stability especially important.

No wonder, it has become a target of the West's selective intervention policy in the "democratization" wave that is sweeping across the Arab world. As soon as anti-government protests started in Syria in March this year, Western countries began supporting opposition forces through every possible means - imposing economic sanctions, limiting senior officials' travels abroad, and even directly telling Bashar al-Assad to resign.

The West has tried to treat Syria in the same way that it treated Libya. It tried to propel the UN Security Council to impose further sanctions and even launch an attack on Syria.

The US and its Western allies are dreaming of turning the Mediterranean Sea into "NATO's internal lake". If the Western powers can topple Bashar al-Assad, they can isolate Iran further and take forward their plan to establish a "Great Middle East".

By intervening selectively in the Middle East, Western countries are in fact fulfilling their own interests instead of promoting their avowed universal values. They identify a country where they want to intervene not because it is undemocratic but because it threatens or is deemed to threaten their interests. And the Western media never hesitate in advocating mass protests in the countries that hinder or are deemed to hinder Western interests.

Syria and Libya (during Muammar Gadhafi's rule) have both been thorns in America's side for opposing its wider "democracy" plan in the Middle East and NATO's ambition to include the whole of the Mediterranean region in its orbit. Now that Gadhafi has been ousted from power in Libya, the Western alliance has turned to Syria.

But Syria is not Libya. Although armed conflicts have occurred between different groups in the country, Qadri Jamil, leader of the Popular Front for Change, has declared openly that he and his party reject all forms of foreign intervention and the Syrian people should decide the country's future. On Oct 12, thousands of people demonstrated in support of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and expressed opposition to foreign intervention.

As a responsible country which believes in non-intervention in the internal affairs of a country, China on Oct 5 vetoed a move in the United Nations Security Council to intervene in Syria. For long, China has advocated political dialogue between different groups to maintain peace and stability in the Middle East. It expects the Syrian government to make good its promises on reform and start the process of inclusive politics, and supports the negotiation efforts of all.

China's actions best illustrate its principle of peaceful diplomacy and pursuit of a harmonious world.

China does have interests in the region, but they are in accordance with those of Middle East countries. Peace and stability mean lower risks and less threat to the lives of people in the Middle East.

China and the Middle East countries have to continue promoting economic cooperation and oil trade, which will not only secure China's oil supply, but also help oil-producing countries stabilize oil prices. Moreover, peace and stability will help eliminate terrorism, separatism and extremism, which is the common pursuit of most countries.

If the UN had passed the proposal to intervene in Syria, not only Syria, but also the entire Middle East would have soon become mired in chaos and people of the region would have been subjected to even greater suffering.

The author is a researcher in Middle East Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

(China Daily 10/21/2011 page9)