China steps back from supporting Assad, parts ways with Russia
Beijing has decided to distance itself from the Assad regime of Syria. Notice of this policy shift came about in a secret exchange of messages with the Obama administration, revealed here exclusively by debkafile’s Washington sources. The latest message received in the latter half of last week said: China will no longer be a problem for America in dealing with Assad. That leaves only Russia.
This change of face surfaced at the UN Security Council on Saturday, April 21, when after voting for another 300 observers for Syria, the Chinese delegate Li Baodong made an unusual speech:
“We also call upon the international community to continue its firm support for Mr. Annan’s good offices’ efforts and consolidate the results achieved, and we strongly oppose any word and act aimed at creating difficulties for Mr. Annan’s good offices.”
Li went on to say: “China always maintained that the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Syria as well as the choice and the will of the Syrian people should be respected.”
Western sources stress that, with this speech, the Chinese ambassador stepped aside from Russia’s uncompromising backing for the Syrian ruler. Moscow remained the only world power acting to limit the UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s powers and the effectiveness of the UN monitors by denying them proper equipment and authority for overseeing an end to the violence in Syria.
The shift in Chinese policy was noted by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on April 10 when, after visiting Beijing, he remarked: “China is not in the same position as it was before. It is shifting away from full support for Assad’s regime.”
debkafile’s Washington sources believe that the Obama administration can count this change of face as a return on its policy of nuclear appeasement of – and rapprochement with – Tehran.
A senior US official said that what concerns Beijing most is the US oil embargo on Iran and its effect on the Chinese economy. Now that the Chinese see signs of a possible loosening up of sanctions especially in relation to Iranian oil exports in the wake of evolving US-Iranian deals, they are breathing a deep sigh of relief and prepared to be more accommodating to the US in its policy on Syria.
The approaching easing of sanctions against Iranian oil was signaled Saturday, April 21, by an announcement in Tehran that new purchasing contracts for the whole of 2012 had come in from the Asian refineries which were in trade relations with Iran.
Beijing is reported by our sources as having turned down an appeal from the Assad regime to purchase tens of billons of dollars worth of Syrian government bonds to tide it over its economic distress for the duration of the war. Last week, Assad was revealed to be so cash-strapped as to start dipping into the national gold reserves held in the Syrian state bank and selling the precious metal on financial markets in Dubai.
China’s defection will not immediately bring Bashar Assad crashing down, but it is a vote of no-confidence by a key world power in his survivability. It leaves Tehran and Moscow as the only props of his regime and may well inspire second thoughts in either or both of his champions.