China on Syria: Follow the rules

Updated: 2013-09-03 10:45

By Zhang Yuwei in New York (China Daily)

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China is "seriously concerned" about any unilateral military action against Syria, said a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman on Monday, responding to the most recent decision by US President Barack Obama to seek Congressional approval to conduct military strikes against Syria.

"Any action by the international community should respect the rules of the UN charter and basic rules of international relations," Hong Lei said, adding that taking actions should avoid further complicating the Syrian issue and avoid bringing more disaster to the Middle East.

Hong said the US has explained to China its evidence relating to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The White House released a four-page report last Friday on the Syrian government's alleged use of chemical weapons on Aug 21, saying at least 1,429 civilians were killed by it.

"China is firmly opposed to the use of chemical weapons by any party in Syria and expresses serious concerns about preparations by relevant countries for unilateral military action," said Hong.

Obama's bid to seek Congressional support to issue military action on the Bashar al-Assad regime was echoed Monday by Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham after a meeting at the White House.

But the President's decision has drawn concern from experts.

"President Obama's decision to seek authorization from Congress represents a risky strategy," said Vanessa Neumann, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

"On the one hand, he is seeking to buffer himself from criticism from the American people that he is getting them into yet a third Middle Eastern war without their consent," said Neumann. "If there is blowback from the intervention, Congress will share part of the blame."

Hong said that no side should rush to pre-judge the results of an investigation by UN chemical weapons experts in Syria, and that a "political solution is the only practical way" to solve the issue.

China said it supports the United Nations Secretariat in carrying out an independent, objective and professional investigation on the alleged use of chemical weapons in accordance with relevant UN resolutions.

On Saturday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with UN disarmament chief Angela Kane who just returned from Damascus for briefings on the chemical weapons investigation and the latest developments on the ground in Syria.

The UN investigation team - which arrived on Aug 24 in Damascus - conducted a wide range of fact-finding activities pertaining to the Aug 21 incident in the Ghouta area of Syria.

The inspection team, led by Swedish scientist ke Sellstrm, is now in The Hague's headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which assisted the probe with the UN World Health Organization.

In a phone conversation with Ban on Sunday, Sellstrm briefed Ban on how to expedite the process of analyzing the samples in accordance with established international standards and regulations, according to a UN press release.

Ban will brief the 10 non-permanent members of the Council on the latest developments Tuesday morning. Kane will also brief UN member states that wrote to Ban requesting the investigation.

Last week, the British Parliament voted against military action against Syria while France - one of the five permanent members on the UN Security Council - and Turkey expressed support for the intervention.

Just a day after Obama vowed to issue a military intervention in Syria seeking Congressional approval (which won't happen before Sept 9 when Congress returns from the recess), US Secretary of State John Kerry said the administration was confident of getting approval.

"We don't contemplate that the Congress is going to vote no," Kerry said, adding that the President had right to take action "no matter what Congress does".

Neumann, who also heads Asymmetrica, a New York-based consultancy in strategies to disrupt transnational threats to global security, said while an early intervention in Syria might have served US interests in the region, "an intervention at this point will do little to serve US interests".

"Getting rid of Assad, however, does little for the civil war that will continue to rage as it evolves into a second stage confrontation between Sunni and Shia, as led by Al Qaeda and Hezbollah," said Neumann.

"And for that, there is little that the US can do, as US involvement will not only have little effect on that confrontation, it might even bring Al Qaeda and Hezbollah together to battle the United States," she added.

Xinhua contributed to this story.

(China Daily USA 09/03/2013 page1)