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September 10, 2013

China Backs Russian Proposal on Syrian Chemical Weapons

by Shannon Van Sant

China says it supports a Russian plan to avoid U.S. military strikes against Syria by having Damascus hand over its chemical weapons stockpile for destruction. The comments come after a top U.S. defense official pressed Chinese officials to back military action against Syria.

Russia’s proposal to place the Syrian government’s chemical weapons under international control for eventual destruction has won cautious praise from U.S. President Barack Obama, who said it offers hope for avoiding military action.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei also backed the plan.

He said that the international community should consider the proposal as long it was conducive to easing the current situation in Syria and safeguarding peace and stability in the whole region.

China has consistently joined Russia in vetoing United Nations resolutions imposing sanctions or criticizing the Syrian government.  Beijing insisted that political dialogue was the only solution to the conflict.  On Monday, China’s Foreign Minister urged the U.S. to proceed with extreme caution and to return to the U.N. to discuss Syria before launching air strikes.

Chinese authorities are expected to meet with six members of the Syrian opposition Tuesday to discuss the conflict in Syria. However authorities did not identify the group.

China’s state-backed media have warned against a military campaign targeting the Syrian government and said that a U.S. strike would hurt America’s international image. The People’s Daily said military strikes could evolve quickly into a regional war which would threaten the global energy supply and economy.

U.S. Under Secretary for Defense Policy, James Miller, arrived in Beijing this week on a trip originally aimed at bolstering defense ties, but which also included discussions on Syria.

He told reporters Tuesday that he spoke with Chinese authorities about backing military action against Syrian government targets in retaliation for the chemical weapons attack allegedly carried out by Syrian troops.

Miller said that China had an interest in preventing the use of chemical weapons especially to set an example for its neighbor North Korea.

“I emphasized the massive chemical weapons arsenal that North Korea has and that we didn't want to live in a world in which North Korea felt the threshold for using chemical weapons had been lowered,” he said.

When asked about Miller’s comments on North Korea, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei affirmed that China opposed the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. 

However he said that China was also opposed to the use of force in military relations and military strikes would add to regional unrest in the Middle East.