Syrians participate in a rally to protest against the article No.3 of the new draft constitution stating that the president of the country should be Muslim, in Damascus, Syria, Feb. 21, 2012. Photo: Xinhua
The "Friends of Syria" meeting starts today in Tunis, with more than 70 countries invited. Russia refused to join as the Syria government has been excluded from the meeting, which is widely seen as a copycat of the "Friends of Libya" gathering last year. It is actually a meeting of the "Friends of Syria opposition." China had not made any open announcement on whether or not it would join the meeting. Apparently, it is hesitating.
Perhaps it would be strange if China did not hesitate. Although China vetoed a draft resolution on Syria in both the UN Security Council and UN General Assembly, it has never bonded with the Bashar al-Assad leadership unilaterally. Syrian opposition representatives have visited China and Beijing has declared a commitment to assist Damascus to seek a peaceful resolution. As a result, Beijing has to maintain contact with both sides.
China has chosen a difficult role as a mediator. If neither the West nor the Arab League cooperates, the Syrian opposition can hardly heed the appeals of China. The chance of a prompt and peaceful settlement is slim.
The Syrian opposition is now asking for Western intervention, but what Western countries want to see most is the use of international influence and opposition group's growth to force out the young Bashar Al-Assad, or hope for a miracle in the sudden collapse of the current government.
It's unnecessary for China to see a quick effect. The time for the opposition to agree to a compromise is yet to arrive. But if the Assad administration continues to hang on, chances of a peaceful negotiation will grow.
The US and Europe may help to arm opposition groups. The consequences would be terrible. Surrounding unstable nations or regions would be affected and become involved, and the situation would then evolve into a complex battle with political and religious differences and agents competing against each other. If this happens, the foreign party that solely supports one side will be more exhausted than China.
Any progress made by Chinese efforts to promote a peaceful settlement will mark a significant diplomatic achievement. China will not become deeply involved in the way the US has become with the Palestinian-Israeli dialogue. The West will not allow that to happen, either. What China wants is for the principle of settling a crisis through peaceful channels to be understood and supported.
China needn't think too much on whether it should attend the "Friends of Syria" meeting, since attending or not have their pros and cons. The Syria situation is at a standstill now. China should be confident in its unique attitude over the issue.