It’s just one line in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs daily briefing – but it does seem to depart from the People’s Republic of China’s long-touted principle of non-intervention in other nations’ internal affairs.
In the course of criticizing the US, UK and France’s unilateral missile strikes targeting Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s chemical weapons program (for violating “the basic principle of prohibition of use of force in international law”) Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying added: “We have noted that there are also doubts and criticism in the US, the UK and France concerning the legality and legitimacy of such military strikes.”
This seems an ever-so-slight variation from statements in previous times when such cross-border commentary on other nation’s internal affairs wouldn’t happen. But delivered directly from the MFA, it can be seen as highlighting or amplifying internal division.
The MFA spokeswoman went on to echo the Russian position on Syria, drawing parallels to widely condemned 2003 US invasion of Iraq. She also repeated one of the Russia/Syrian position of – we don’t know all the facts (after years’ of footage of chemical attacks on civilians) so there is no legal basis to act. Hua Chunying said:
“…When it comes to the use of force against other countries on the ground of chemical weapons, we shall not forget the precedent of the Iraqi issue. That historical lesson should be learned, and such tragedy shall never be allowed to happen again. We noted that senior officials of those three countries you mentioned said that it is ‘highly likely’ that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons, or in other words, they are still ‘looking for the evidence’. We believe that it is very irresponsible to launch military strikes on a sovereign country on the ground of ‘presumption of guilt’. The issue of Syrian chemical weapons calls for truth.”
The Russians have used the same rationale both on the Syria chemical attack and in the aftermath of the Skripal poisoning. But compare China’s recent recent statement on the missile attack to its official statement after the US’s unilateral missile strikes on Syria in April 2017. (From April 7, 2017)
Q: Does China consider the missile strike on the Syrian airbase to be within the scope of international law? Or do you think it violates existing rules about intervention in other country’s sovereign territory?
A: The Chinese side has always stood for a political settlement of the Syrian issue. Under the current circumstances, we hope all parties can keep calm, exercise restraint and avoid escalating the tension.
The latest developments in Syria highlight once again the urgency of resolving the Syrian issue through political means. We call on all parties not to walk away from the process of political settlement.
It could very well be that these arguments are simply in the air and so China is repeating them. But given that China and Russia are opportunistic security partners when it comes to rolling back Western influence (just look at the Snowden saga), it could explain why Russian talking points are showing up at the Chinese foreign ministry press room.
Gone are the days of “we hope all parties can keep calm” (circa 2017) and now we’re entering period of highlighting divisions internal to the US, UK, and France – the same divisions, by the way, that China and Russia have the scope and power to amplify through their own networks active in the West.