Russia and China have vetoed a UN resolution to impose sanctions on Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons. It is the seventh time Russia has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to protect the Syrian government. China has also vetoed six Security Council resolutions on Syria since the civil war began in 2011. Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under an agreement negotiated between Russia and the US. What is Syria accused of? The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad is accused of carrying out chemical attacks on its own civilians – a charge it denies. However,
by the UN and international chemical weapons watchdog have found that Syrian government forces carried out three chemical weapons attacks in 2014 and 2015. The reports said that Syrian air force helicopters had dropped chlorine gas on rebel-held areas, twice in March 2015 and once in April 2014. The use of chlorine as a weapon is prohibited under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. Islamic State (IS) militants had also used sulphur-mustard gas in an attack, the watchdog found. Read more: What did the UN resolution say? Tuesday\’s resolution had been drafted by the US, the UK and France. It would have banned the sale of helicopters to Syria and would have led to sanctions against 11 Syrian commanders or officials, and 10 groups linked to the chemical attacks. Nine Security Council members supported the resolution, while three – China, Russia and Bolivia – voted against it. The final three members – Egypt, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia – abstained. Russia vetoed the resolution, saying the vote was \”based on the anti-regime doctrine of western states\” A Security Council resolution needs nine votes in support, and no vetoes from the five permanent members (the US, France, Russia, UK and China) in order to pass.
Why did Russia and China veto the resolution? Russian President Vladimir Putin had said sanctions against Syria would be \”totally inappropriate\”, saying \”it would only hurt or undermine confidence\” in peace talks. Moscow has long-standing links to Syria, with many Syrian military officers trained and equipped by Russia. Moscow says its military and political support for the Syrian government has helped the fight against IS militants. But Western critics accuse Moscow of targeting opposition groups backed by the West. Meanwhile, China\’s UN ambassador, Liu Jieyi, said Beijing opposed the use of chemical weapons but that it was too soon to impose sanctions as investigations were still ongoing. China has said in the past that it has a long-standing policy of non-intervention in other countries\’ affairs. Analysts say China may be worried that some of its Muslim populations in western Xinjiang have joined militant groups fighting in Syria. What do sanctions supporters say? The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said: \”It is a sad day on the Security Council when members start making excuses for other member states killing their own people. \”They put their friends in the Assad regime ahead of our global security. the world is definitely a more dangerous place. \” UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said: \”Not taking action against chemical weapons\’ use undermines confidence in the international community\’s ability to tackle flagrant violations of international law – and undermines the trust of Syrians affected by these horrific attacks. \” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Russia bore a \”heavy responsibility toward the Syrian people and humanity as a whole\”. Beijing s position on Syria has not been entirely clear since the country s civil war broke out six years ago.
But it has teamed up with Moscow since then to veto any UN proposals sponsored by the West to sanction the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Unlike Russia, which has directly intervened in Syria by launching air strikes, Beijing has tried to keep a safe distance from the conflict. It has insisted that the fate of Assad s government be decided by the Syrian people, and opposed any interference by foreign powers. How many times has Beijing vetoed UN Security Council resolutions over Syria? In February, Beijing backed Russia by casting its sixth veto to protect Assad s government from Security Council action, blocking a bid by Western powers to impose sanctions over accusations of a chemical weapons attack. It was the seventh time Russia has used its veto power to block Western-sponsored sanctions on Syria since the start of the civil war, which has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and left many more homeless. In October 2011, China first joined Russia in vetoing a council resolution, in this case drafted by France, Germany, Portugal and Britain. It demanded that Syrian authorities stop using force against civilians and allow the exercise of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and other rights. Li Baodong, China s representative to the UN, said the resolution did not facilitate easing the situation in Syria and did not comply with UN principles of non-interference in internal affairs. Military relations between China and Syria Despite opposing UN sanctions on Syria, China has been getting more involved in the country in recent years. Rear Admiral Guan Youfei, who sits on China s Central Military Commission, said last year that the PLA would be willing to continue exchanges and cooperation with the Syrian military, including providing training.
Last March, China also named Xie Xiaoyan, former ambassador to Iran, as its special envoy to Syria. Beijing has its own security concerns in the Middle East. State media have blamed violence in Xinjiang on extremists from an East Turkestan faction who were trained in Syria. Beijing s stance on Russia s military action in Syria Moscow launched its first air strikes in rebel-controlled areas of Syria in September 2015. Russia said Islamic State militants were the target of these attacks, although Syrian opposition activists and Western officials said they mainly targeted moderate rebel groups, including US-trained fighters not associated with Islamic State. Chinese envoy Xie has praised Russia s military role in the war, calling it part of international counterterrorism efforts. Beijing s relationship with President Assad Assad visited Beijing in 2004, four years after he took office in 2000. In his meeting with then Chinese president Hu Jintao, Assad described China as a close friend of Syria and welcomed Chinese investment in the country. In an interview with Russia s Sputnik news agency in March last year, Assad said he welcomed companies from Russia, China and Iran the three countries he said had supported Syria during its destructive civil war to take part in reconstruction of the country. In another interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV that aired last month, Assad hailed Beijing s part in vetoing UN sanctions on Syria. He also confirmed that China was directly involved in building many projects, mainly industrial ones, in Syria, including the participation of Chinese experts working in Syria.