Arab League and China Stand Up to Assad
Syrian President Bashar Assad's despotic regime received major setbacks today, as the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman called on Syria to better cooperate with the Arab League the same day that body approved economic sanctions against the regime. The moves further isolate the deteriorating government, cutting off almost all trade and investment between Syria and other Arab nations and demonstrating the distance Syria's traditional allies are putting between themselves and the tyrannical actions of Assad.
Hong Lei, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told reporters today that "China believes that the Syrian issue should be solved within the framework of the Arab League." While the Chinese did not officially comment on the League's sanctions, this is still a bold change of tune for Chinese officials, who have until now been some of Assad's most stalwart protectors against attempts for international action to reprimand the Syrian regime.
China was one of two nations to veto a watered down resolution considered by the U.N. Security Council in October that would have condemned Assad's regime for violence perpetrated against peaceful protesters. Chinese officials warned at the time that the resolution could provoke unrest and came close to violating Syrian national sovereignty by pushing for regime change. Now, two months and 1,000 additional deaths later, China is finally recognizing that the international community must respond to Assad's crackdown on the Syrian people.
The Arab League sanctions deal another significant blow to Assad's government. Syria's economy has already been severely impacted by economic sanctions imposed by Europe and the United States, actions which have effectively paralyzed oil exports and the Syrian tourism industry. Nineteen Arab nations supported the new sanctions, sending a strong signal to the Syrian government that the Arab League will not idly sit by as Assad fails to implement agreed upon measures to end the violence that has gripped the country for more than eight months. According to an article in The New York Times, "the sanctions include a travel ban against scores of senior officials, a freeze on Syrian government assets in Arab countries, a ban on transactions with Syria's central bank and an end to all commercial exchanges with the Syrian government."
While Arab rulers made it clear that the sanctions were aimed at forcing Assad's cooperation in peace negotiations rather than regime change, regional leaders have made a strong statement in support of human rights and freedoms in Syria. The Arab League, often critiqued as ineffective, finally proved it was willing to take strong action to prevent harm of fellow Arabs. Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, whose government supported the sanctions, said "Nobody can expect Turkey and the Arab League to remain silent on the killings of civilians and the Syrian regime's increasing oppression of innocent people."
The Arab League also called on the United Nations to enact similar sanctions to further pressure the Assad regime. If China is serious about supporting and working with the Arab League, they should champion an effort to pass a new resolution in the Security Council. China's veto of the first attempt at a resolution constituted a failure of the international responsibility to protect innocent citizens victimized by their own government. (See CGS blog on China and Russia op-ed UN-Responsible) Chinese support of a new resolution could mean the difference between international pressure forcing Assad to stand down or continued violence that truly has the potential to destabilize Syria and the entire Middle East.
Today's actions by the Chinese and Arab leaders prove that it is increasingly difficult for international actors to defend or protect Assad without themselves complying with war crimes and forfeiting legitimacy. With China approving regional action to stabilize Syria, Russia remains the last holdout on the Security Council to oppose action against the Assad regime. According to Reuters, Russia is sending warships to Syria, signaling it will defend its interests in that nation, despite claims that the exercise has no connection to the conflict. Hopefully, stronger action by China will pressure Russia to support an international response to end the government crackdown.
Syrians have shown remarkable bravery and courage standing up to Assad during their eight-month resistance movement. The least the international community can do is show we have even a fraction of that courage in our opposition to the authoritarian dictator.
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