The Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times condemned the Western strikes on Syrian regime assets in Damascus in a column on Sunday, declaring the strikes the behavior of “rogues” and positing that U.S. President Donald Trump has “no clue” what his Syria policy is.
The Chinese Communist Party condemned the strikes against dictator Bashar al-Assad in separate, and much more tempered, statements during the weekend. While China has not played an active role in the Syrian civil war, it remains allied to Assad’s most active patrons, Russia and Iran.
The Global Times claimed in the column, “Reckless Strike on Syria a Shameless Act,” that “many people are confused” by President Trump’s Syria strategy, which has, so far, been limited to responding to the use of chemical weapons to send a message that Washington will enforce international legal norms on chemical weapons. Prior to the strike on Friday, Trump had mused in public of a total withdrawal of American assets from Syria “very soon.”
“Perhaps even Trump and his team have no clue what they want to do in Syria,” the Times article argues. “They may want to showcase the might of the U.S. and the West, send a warning to their potential opponents and boost the unity of the West. Washington may feel that it is no big deal to beat Syria up.”
The result of the Trump airstrikes, the column concludes, is that “the U.S., UK, and France behaved like rogues.” The strikes, it continues, were unnecessary to enforce international law because Assad had “no need at all” to use the weapons. What’s more, the strikes damage talks between the Koreas, the Chinese outlet argues, without elaborating on how. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, Assad’s close ally, is scheduled to meet President Trump in person at a meeting on a to-be-determined date in May or early June.
The Global Times grants the Western coalition one compliment: it did succeed, the column notes, in having “embarrassed Moscow” by attacking Damascus without drawing retribution. Yet “the strike avoided the region where Russian troops are stationed and the U.S. issued a signal to stop the strike immediately afterward.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry, which speaks for the Chinese regime more officially, categorically condemned the airstrikes on Syria because they occurred without the permission of the U.N. Security Council, which China sites as a permanent member – allowing it to veto any action it does not like.
“We oppose the use of force in international relations and call for respect for other countries’ sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Saturday. “Any unilateral military action bypassing the [United Nations] Security Council runs contrary to the purpose and principles of the UN Charter and violates the principles of international law.”
The regime’s Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) touted China’s opposition to the strikes, as well as vocal support from allied governments like Bolivia and Cuba.
Experts speaking to the Global Times for a news article on the Syrian developments challenged the veracity of “questionable” evidence the Western powers involved used to conduct the strike. “Just like in 2013, ‘chemical attacks’ always happened when the Syrian government made gains in the war,” former Chinese Ambassador to Iran Hua Liming told the outlet, calling the chemical weapons charge an “excuse to intervene” in the war.
President Donald Trump addressed the nation Friday, confirming targeted attacks on scientific research and storage facilities in Damascus.
“The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons,” he said. “Establishing this deterrent is a vital interest of the United States.”
Pentagon chief Gen. Jim Mattis called the attack a “one-time shot” as long as Assad does not attempt to use chemical weapons again. However, concerns surfaced Sunday night from France, where President Emmanuel Macron insisted he had convinced Trump to stay in Syria long term. Macron did not specify what role the United States would take in that war – one in which more than ten warring actors are competing for territorial supremacy within Syria’s borders – or what interest the United States had in a long-term operation there.
Syria declared independence from France in 1946.