A new proposal to end the conflict in Syria was presented Thursday by China, one of the Syrian government’s few foreign defenders, which calls for a phased-in truce, the establishment of a transitional authority and an intensified international response to the humanitarian crisis afflicting millions of Syrians.
It was unclear whether the proposal, presented during a visit to Beijing by the special Syria peace envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, differed substantially from a plan that Brahimi is formulating in an attempt to end the 20-month-old conflict. But it appeared to reflect concern by Chinese leaders that their consistent support for the legitimacy of the government of President Bashar Assad had strained China’s relations with other Arab countries that have been pushing for Assad’s removal.
China’s proposal also was publicized a day after the United States, a strong supporter of the anti-Assad rebellion in Syria, announced its own aggressive proposals to reshape the Syrian opposition, which has been criticized as a dysfunctional group led by out-of-touch Syrian exiles who have little feel for the combat that is convulsing much of the country. The U.S. proposal, outlined by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, is to be presented at a meeting of Syrian opposition figures in Qatar next week.
Together, the proposals by China and the United States suggested that the big powers on opposite sides of the Syria conflict had grown increasingly impatient with what appears to be a stalemate on the ground. There have also been indications that the antagonists believe that the only way to settle the conflict is by military force, as seen in the failure of Brahimi’s cease-fire proposal over the weekend.
Hong Lei, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Beijing that Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi gave “constructive new suggestions” to Brahimi, who is the joint special representative for the United Nations and the Arab League. “The new proposal is an extension of China’s efforts to push forward a political resolution of the Syrian issue,” the spokesman said.
Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, said that under the proposal, “all parties should stop the violence” via a phased-in, region-by-region cease-fire and designate representatives to negotiate a path to a political transition. Xinhua said the proposal also called for international support for efforts by Brahimi and a group of influential powers convened by his predecessor in the job, Kofi Annan, to mediate a transition, and for “effective measures to address the humanitarian crisis in Syria.”