China and Syria

09/11/2013 11:30 am ET | Updated Nov 11, 2013
  • Donald Gross Author, 'The China Fallacy'; Senior associate, Pacific Forum, Center for Strategic and International Studies

One of the most significant aspects of the case China makes against a military strike on Syria is its consistency with positions taken by leading American opponents of an attack.

At his meeting last Friday with President Obama, President Xi Jinping maintained 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."

Xi underscored China's support for the international prohibition on the use of chemical weapons, reflecting Beijing's earlier call for a full and impartial investigation by UN chemical weapons inspectors and its view that whoever used chemical weapons must be held accountable.

A day before the Obama-Xi meeting, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said China hopes

"relevant parties can continue communications and coordination and hold deep consultations so as to resolve the relevant issues in a peaceful way. ... Given the current circumstances, a political solution [and] settlement is of utmost importance. [China hopes] the international community can work together and push for the holding of an international conference on the Syrian issue at an early date."

Compare the Chinese position with the statements of American political leaders from both parties in Congress who oppose a military strike:

"This is not a question about party loyalty -- this is a question for all of us about what is right. This is about our conscience. Is this [military strike] the most effective thing to do? We're being told that there's two choices: do nothing or bomb Syria. Clearly there have to be some other choices in between. We ought to explore them." -- Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

"Once we hit, this is an act of war. Little wars start big wars, and we have to remember that and we have to be cautious." -- Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee

"War should occur only when America is attacked, when it is threatened or when American interests are attacked or threatened. I don't think the situation in Syria passes that test. Even the State Department argues that 'there's no military solution here that's good for the Syrian people, and that the best path forward is a political solution.'" -- Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

"I hope my colleagues will fully think through the weightiness of this decision and reject military action. The situation on the ground in Syria is tragic and deeply saddening, but escalating the conflict and Americanizing the Syrian civil war will not resolve the matter." -- Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y. and an Army veteran with multiple foreign deployments

"The apparent chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime is an appalling, unconscionable act by a bloodthirsty tyrant. The 'limited' military response supported by President Obama, however, shows no clear goal, strategy, or any coherence whatsoever, and is supported neither by myself nor the American people." -- Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

"Unilateral U.S. military action against the Syrian regime at this time would do nothing to advance American interests, but would certainly fuel extremist groups on both sides of the conflict that are determined to expand the bloodshed beyond Syria's borders." -- Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn.

Aside from the consistency of China's views on Syria with those of important members of Congress, Beijing's position aligns fully with the considered views of the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, who said the following at last week's G-20 meeting:

"I must warn that ill-considered military action could cause serious and tragic consequences, and with an increased threat of further sectarian violence. We should explore ways to avoid further militarization of the conflict and revitalize the search for a political settlement instead. This is a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions in recent history. The world must do everything within its powers to stop the suffering of the Syrian people."

The opponents of U.S. military action in Syria -- from China to members of Congress to the UN Secretary General -- possess a quality sorely lacking in the views expressed by administration officials and others outside the government who urge an attack: a sense of tragedy, a firm belief in the historically-proven principle that war is unpredictable and entails innumerable unintended consequences, an awareness that both international political conditions and conditions on the ground in a war-torn country can get much worse, very fast.

By contrast, the convoluted view of UN Ambassador Samantha Power that the U.S. should egregiously violate the United Nations Charter -- the most important set of international legal principles governing war and peace -- by circumventing the Security Council in order to enforce the "established international norm" banning chemical weapons reflects another principle enshrined in the decent opinion of humankind: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

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Donald Gross is senior associate at the Pacific Forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a former White House and State Department official, and author of The China Fallacy: How the U.S. Can Benefit from China's Rise and Avoid Another Cold War (Bloomsbury, 2013).