China may be betting on the wrong horse in Syria

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Rebel fighters stamp on a portrait of President Assad Photo: Reuters

The UN resolution on Syria was "unbalanced", "immature" and "doomed" according to a commentary article published by the official Chinese state news agency Xinhua today.

The article goes on to say that China's stance has been "consistent and clear" by calling for an end to violence from all sides and China has "worked hard" with other countries to seek a political solution.

There is criticism for Western diplomats who "displayed arrogance" and "rushed to point fingers at Russia and China after the resolution was defeated, but they only have themselves to blame".

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (L) chats to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing in 2004 Credit: REUTERS/Frederic J. Brown/Pool TW

So while China is still supporting the Kofi Annan peace plan, which given the events of this week looks increasingly unworkable, China is also now critical of continued Western efforts to force the Syrian regime to pull its troops back.

In conversations I've had with senior Chinese diplomats it is clear that Libya is being seen as the scenario the Chinese are trying to avoid repeating. "We have our bottom lines" I was told while chatting to a senior foreign ministry official back in March.

Women take part in a rally supporting coalition air strikes in Libya at the rebel-held city of Benghazi Credit: REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

There is anger that when China abstained from the resolution on Libya, the ensuing action by NATO went far beyond what they expected. Was China either naive about what was bound to happen militarily in Libya or did Beijing think there was hope of a peaceful solution in Libya.

The gamble didn't pay off and China lost billions in investments and contracts. The rebels didn't look kindly on a country which had close ties with Gaddafi. Documents found after the fall of the Libyan dictator suggested that Chinese arms companies were still prepared to deliver on deals just days before Tripoli fell.

Now it faces a similar situation in Syria, China is at risk of losing lucrative business deals with the regime. Why? Because it seems it is a price worth paying for sticking to its foreign policy mantra that it does not interfere with the internal affairs of other countries.

After all, it doesn't want to set a precedent that might, one day, apply to China itself.