After President Obama said he was considering limited airborne strikes on the military assets of the Syrian regime, which was recently accused of using chemical weapons against civilians, Chinese state-run media were quick to leap in with a stern caution: Not so fast.
“This ‘use of chemical weapons’ incident cannot be dealt with in a groundless manner,” said the writer Zhong Sheng in the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party. “Any subsequent action must be supported by the results of a reliable investigation.”
“Certain external forces are trying to summon public support to directly intervene in Syria’s affairs,” it said. By the end of the article it became clear who the meddling external forces were.
The author did acknowledge that the use of chemical weapons would be a violation of international conventions and a “serious crime.” The country should submit to a United Nations-led investigation team, and all parties should patiently await the results, the article said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Wang Yi, told the state-run Xinhua that: “China keeps a close watch on the latest situation in Syria,” and expects to see a UN investigation.
“In the past few years China has always stood on the side of supporting dictatorships in the Middle East region,” said Hu Ping, the editor of Chinese reform magazine Beijing Spring, in a telephone interview. “So they’re against any interference,” he said.
Hu added: “They have no other convenient reason for opposing intervention, so they write an article based on this question of chemical weapons.”
Apart from President Obama’s hinting at strikes, the idea of direct military intervention in Syria has been supported by other countries. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said that even without complete unity on the UN Security Council, action may still be taken in response to use of chemical weapons.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that there was strong evidence that the Syrian government is responsible for the “chemical massacre.” He urged UN inspections immediately.
Another article in the military newspaper People’s Liberation Army Daily on Aug. 18, widely copied to other Chinese official websites, is titled “America’s Undisciplined and Out of Control Drones.” It did not make reference to Syria, but criticized the United States for “recklessly” infringing on the sovereignty of other countries with drones “without the slightest shame.”
The recent People’s Daily article compared the United States’ remarks over Syria to its invasion of Iraq.
In the case of Syria, the Obama administration said it was contemplating limited attacks, to last no more than a day or two, focused on military units and their headquarters involved in chemical attacks. A State Department spokesperson said that the goal would not be to topple the Syrian regime, but merely disable its chemical weapons capability.
Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is accused of killing 1,300 people with chemical weapons, unleashed to the east and southwest of Damascus on Aug. 21.
With translation by Frank Fang. Lu Chen contributed reporting.