By Kalinga Seneviratne
Ever since China, along with Russia, vetoed a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution on Syria on February 4 there has been a lot of criticism in the western media of China’s role. Several reports are suggesting that China is playing an irresponsible game of self-interest in responding to the Arab uprisings and the issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
However a cursory glance at opinion columns in Asian newspapers reflects that many Asians are not buying into the western media’s arguments; in fact many even see it as propaganda disguised as news reports.
Prakash Shah, India’s former permanent representative to the UN writing in The Hindu warned that what is happening in the Middle East is a high risk game with oil as a political weapon. He argues that the US is well aware of how the Arab states can use oil as a political weapon, for example to change its policy towards Palestine, and hence they are intervening repeatedly along with its allies in oil producing countries, especially to stop them falling into the sphere of influence of China and Russia.
“It is sad that the international community, fed by western propaganda, is looking at the Iran crisis as a bilateral issue of controlling Iran’s nuclear ambitions, rather than at the larger consequences of the use of oil as a political weapon for the region and world,” noted Shah.
“What is required today is to stop the implementation of sanction measures the European Union (EU) has rashly announced,” he argues. “The sanctions have provoked equally unreasonable threats by Iran to suspend exports or close the Strait of Hormuz, to raise the price of oil or to have a scorched earth policy for some Gulf oil fields. These threats, in turn, are being disingenuously touted as justification by the Israelis for military intervention.”
Shah argues that a diplomatic initiative by India, China and Russia is needed to lower the temperature, persuade the EU and the US to freeze and then slowly withdraw the use of oil sanctions while getting Iran and Israel to back off on all their threats.
Indonesian poet and playwright Jamil Maidan Flores writing in the Jakarta Globe argues that what happened in Libya is a good lesson why western powers should not interfere in trying to change regimes in the Arab world, if the reasons for such action is to “protect civilians”, as they claim it to be. He says that perhaps about 60 percent of the Syrian population supports the Assad regime because many minority groups would not trust a majority Sunni-led government to look after their interests.
“Well, look at what happened in Libya,” warns Flores. “A minority group, the Amazigh, better known as Berbers, fought fiercely on the side of the National Transitional Council against Qaddafi. Today there are reports that they face bleak prospects because the new regime is adopting Qaddafi’s policy of marginalizing them.”
He also argues that Syria will not be Libya II for a number of other reasons. “The Libyan opposition had an air force, courtesy of NATO. The Syrian rebels will not enjoy that kind of air support,” he notes. “Libya has oil, Syria none. Remove one NATO incentive.”
Thanong Khanthong of Thailand’s Nation newspaper laments that his country is caught in the cross-fires of a geopolitical battle in the Middle East and Thailand has nothing to gain by siding with either side. He warns that the West’s confrontative attitude in the Middle East could backfire.
“China has recently forged closer relations with Iran through a bilateral barter agreement that circumvents the use of the US dollar as a medium of financial transactions. This agreement is a direct challenge to the petrol-dollar system put in place by the US after it de-linked the dollar from the gold standard in 1972,” notes Khanthon, adding: “India has also scored a huge gain by entering into an oil-for-rupee agreement with Iran. Under this deal, India will be able to purchase oil from Iran in rupees rather than the US dollar. China and India are directly challenging the petrol-dollar system.”
Mai Hien writing in the Vietnam News and quoting Colonel Le The’ Mau, a senior commentator with the Vietnamese Ministry of Defence’s Military Strategy Institute, says that the latest conflicts in Middle East originated from a US plan to pacify many countries in North Africa and the Middle East, Syria being the key to limiting the influence of Russia and China in the region. Thus they are using outside forces to take advantage of Syria’s crisis to quickly overthrow the Assad government and bring pro-US forces to power.
Hien points out the contradictions of the West’s policies in relation to its decade long war on terror. “It was reported that some western countries used al-Qaeda militants to kill civilians in Libya and then blamed Gadhafi forces ‘repressing civilians’ and accused them of ‘crimes against humanity’,” he notes. “This ‘Libyan scenario’ is now being pushed in Syria. Critics even ask the question: Is al-Qaeda, a terrorist organisation, which the US wants to wipe out in the so-called ‘war on terror’, in the same front with the opposition forces in the fight against President Assad? It should not be forgotten that key hot spots in Syria, such as Homs, were known for their Islamic militancy.”
A number of commentaries in the pro-government China Daily reflects the fact that China vetoed the Syria resolution because of its anger at how a UNSC resolution was exploited by NATO and the US in Libya to go far beyond what was authorized, to effect regime change.
“In today’s West-dominated world, many countries are suffering the consequences of the West’s actions but cannot speak out, for fear of being made to suffer further. The best way for China to find allies is to support friendly countries that need its help,” argues Yang Yi, former director of the Institute for Strategic Studies at the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) National Defence University.
“The US should realize that though it is still a superpower, it no longer has the same status. What the US needs to do is to adapt itself to the new circumstances, abandon its hegemonic strategy, enter into equal partnerships and respect the diverse economic development models of other countries. Only then can it be a respectable superpower and contribute to the betterment of the international community,” argues Wang Yusheng, executive director of the Strategy Research Center of China International Studies Research Fund, and a former senior APEC official, writing in the China Daily.
He says that the US wasted two opportunities in the past two decades to play such a role. One was when the Soviet Union disintegrated and the other was following the September 2001 attacks in the US. In the first instance, he notes, “Washington was too self-absorbed in smug institutional superiority and its naked ambition to dominate the world to choose the right path” and in the second case “it has blatantly practiced unilateralism, seeking to strengthen its hegemony on the pretext of fighting terrorism”.