Politics

Syria peace plans: China vs. United Nations

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UN-Arab League peace envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi (L) shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi prior to their meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on October 31, 2012 in Beijing, China. China proposed its own 4-point peace plan for Syria.

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China on Wednesday unveiled a four-point proposal to resolve the Syrian conflict by political means. China and Russia have in the past repeatedly blocked any coercive measures against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government to implement the six-point peace plan proposed by former United Nations and Arab League envoy to Syria Kofi Annan.

So, how does the Chinese peace plan compare to Annan's, which was backed by the UN Security Council? Who endorses which measures? Where does UN and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi stand?

The Chinese 4-point plan (via Xinhua):

1. Relevant parties should stop fighting and cooperate with the mediation efforts of Brahimi. The ceasefire can be implemented on a region-by-region basis.

2. Each side should appoint "empowered interlocutors" who can work with Brahimi and the international community to formulate a roadmap of political transition, including setting up a transitional governing body. "To ensure a safe, stable and calm transition, the continuity and effectiveness of Syria's governmental institutions must be maintained."

3. The international community should "cooperate with" and "support" Brahimi's mediation efforts, while also implementing the communique of the Geneva foreign ministers' meeting of the Action Group for Syria, former UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's six-point plan and the relevant Security Council resolutions. The Arab League and other countries in the region should contribute to peace efforts.

4. The international community should increase humanitarian aid to Syria and ensure the proper resettlement of refugees, while the Syrian government should cooperate with the UN and other neutral institutions in matters of humanitarian assistance. "At the same time, humanitarian issues should not be politicized and humanitarian assistance should not be militarized."

The UN Security Council-backed six-point plan (originally proposed in March 2012 while Annan was the UN and Arab League envoy to Syria)

1. The Syrian government and opposition should commit to working with the envoy in an inclusive Syrian-led political process and appoint an empowered interlocutor when invited to do so by the envoy.

2. All parties (government and opposition) should commit to stop fighting and implement a ceasefire supervised by the UN.

3. Humanitarian assistance should be provided to all affected areas. A daily two-hour humanitarian pause should be implemented immediately.

4. Political prisoners and those detained "arbitrarily" should be released, and information regarding the whereabouts of such detainees should be released.

5. The government and opposition should ensure the movement of journalists throughout the country, allowing them to obtain visas.

6. Freedom of association and the right to demonstrate should be respected.

How different are the two plans?

Both plans call for a ceasefire, political negotiations and humanitarian assistance. However, Annan's plan goes further in demanding that political prisoners be released, journalists be given free access to report, and the public be afforded the right to demonstrate.

The third step of the plan proposed by China calls for the implementation of Annan's six-point plan, though it remains unclear to what extent China would back the additional points in the Annan's plan.

Some of the wording in the original six-point plan proposed by Annan had to be changed in June, because Russia objected to the implicit understanding that Assad and his associates would be excluded from the governance of Syria in the future, a demand which is central for the Syrian rebels, according to the Guardian.

However, when Kofi Annan stepped down as envoy in August, he reiterated that Assad must leave office.

At the time of Annan's resignation, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Annan's departure "highlights the failure in the United Nations Security Council of Russia and China to support meaningful resolutions against Assad that would hold Assad accountable for his failure to abide by the Annan plan," according to The New York Times.

Syrian political experts noted that the Chinese proposal doesn't call on Assad to step down.

Who endorses which measures?

Russia and China, longtime allies of Syria and Assad, blocked three UN Security Council resolutions which were aimed at increasing pressure on Assad's regime to follow the original six-point plan proposed by Annan, Reuters noted. China has drawn criticism from Arab countries for not taking a stronger stance on Syria.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Wednesday, "More and more countries have come to realize that a military option offers no way out, and a political settlement has become an increasingly shared aspiration."

The Times noted that Brahimi is formulating his own plan for peace in Syria, and news of the Chinese plan also came a day after the United States announced its own proposals to help restructure the Syrian opposition, withdrawing support from the Syrian National Council (SNC).

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday, "There has to be representation of those who are on the front lines, fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom," referring to the fact that the SNC is primarily comprised of Syrian exiles. Foreign Policy magazine said Clinton has been working with the Arab League to plan a meeting in Doha, Qatar next week, when opposition figures are expected to work to form a new opposition body.

The US and its allies have said they could move beyond the UN, if Russia and China continue to hamper progress, Reuters said.

Where does UN and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi stand?

When Brahimi took over from Annan, diplomats suggested that he wanted "strong support" from the UN Security Council, especially since Annan said his own efforts had been hampered by the Council's divided veto powers, Yahoo News noted.

Keeping expectations low, Brahimi said in September that he would keep Annan's six-point plan in his "tool box" for possible adaptation, but said he had no concrete plan yet, the BBC reported. At the time, he said he did not see "any cracks" in the "brick wall" that had defeated Annan.

China backed Brahimi's proposed ceasefire in Syria, which was meant to last the four days of the Eid al-Adha festival, but the ceasefire did not hold, with hundreds of casualties over the weekend. Brahimi, on a two-day visit to China, said he hoped China could play an active role in resolving the Syrian conflict.

CNN reported that Brahimi said a political resolution to the conflict was the only feasible approach. "All parties involved should cease fire and violence so as to create conditions for a political resolution," he said, while not openly endorsing the Chinese four-point plan.

"He also expressed appreciation for Chinese efforts toward a political resolution in Syria," reported Xinhua, China's official news agency.

Brahimi also previously met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, and expressed regret that the Eid al-Adha truce did not hold. According to Reuters, he said there was no immediate plan to send UN peacekeepers into Syria.

Reuters noted that neither Brahimi nor Lavrov gave any clear indication at the time of how the violence in Syria could be ended.

"We think this civil war must end ... and the new Syria has to be built by all its sons," Brahimi said. "The support of Russia and other members of the Security Council is indispensable."