China backed the UNSC resolution on Syria and supported the agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme.
The EU wants Chinese co-operation in dealing with problems in the Middle East and North Africa, especially when doing so requires diplomatic solutions through major powers’ mediation or resolutions adopted by the UNSC. In 2013, two major issues were high on the agenda: the conflict in Syria and the Iranian nuclear programme.
Europeans struggled to find a common position on Syria and therefore did not have a common objective in relation to China. But some EU member states wanted to arm the Syrian opposition, and after a chemical attack in Damascus in August were even ready to back a US-led military response. But China – which had vetoed three UNSC resolutions on Syria in 2012 – was opposed to a UNSC resolution on Syria mandating military action. This opposition was based largely on the lesson China drew from the Libya crisis in 2011, when it abstained in the UNSC vote on a “no-fly zone” but saw the resolution used by Western powers to remove Muammar Gaddafi from power. As a result, although China does not have a strategic stake in Syria (although it has backed Iran and, by extension, Hezbollah), it sided with Russia in opposing action against the Assad regime. It did, however, condemn the chemical attack in Damascus, called for a full UN investigation, and, at the end of September, supported the UNSC resolution to remove and destroy chemical weapons in Syria.
Europeans were more united on policy towards Iran and, by extension, about what they wanted from China. China’s role in negotiations with Iran within the framework of E3+3 (France, Germany, and the UK plus China, Russia, and the US) was overshadowed by that of other participants. Its basic position is that Iran has the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and it sees dialogue and diplomacy as the solution to the Iranian nuclear issue and is opposed to unilateral sanctions. China supported the interim agreement achieved during talks in Geneva in November.