Europeans failed to get Chinese support for an international response to the conflict on Syria. But China cooperated on Sudan and Mali.
Europeans want China to take responsibility for global governance, especially at the UN and the IMF, commensurate with its expanding economic power. However, with the euro crisis still the main focus of the G20, the EU was not in a position to make demands of China in 2012. European efforts to agree a conventional arms treaty were thwarted by China, which insisted on linking the issue to the EU’s arms embargo, as well as the US (see component 67).
Europeans also failed to get Chinese support in the UNSC for an international response to the conflict in Syria: together with Russia, China opposed any UNSC mandate for action against the Assad regime on the basis of what State Councillor Dai Bingguo called the “ironclad principle of non-interference in others’ internal affairs”. Yet China did twice take initiative on Syria: first with a six-point proposal similar to what became the Annan Plan; and then with a ceasefire suggestion in October. China took these steps – perhaps small steps for any solution in Syria but giant steps for China’s normally reactive diplomacy – in order to demonstrate to its Arab League partners that it was being constructive. The Chinese also made contacts with, but did not recognise, the Syrian opposition. If President Bashar al-Assad falls and a transition ensues, these Chinese steps open space for collaboration with the EU and other powers since China wants to make friends with a new regime quickly and is likely to be a more willing partner in international efforts.
China was also pragmatic on conflicts in Africa. In getting South Sudan and Sudan back to talks, China led active shuttle diplomacy and also was behind a firm international response from the UN on the issue. China’s national interest was in making sure oil continued to flow between the two countries.China also allowed the French-led EU initiative for intervention in Mali to pass in the UN without invoking its principle of non-interference.