Will Piekos maintains that China is harming itself with its opposition to intervention in Syria:
Beijing cannot expect to be seen as a responsible world power while it associates with pariah states and defends a Syrian dictator engaged in a bloody civil war to keep power. By affiliating itself with countries on the edge of the current world order, China is undermining its own strategic aspirations. It will not be able to gain the respect of the international community or inject its ideas into the global conscience.
Associating with these pariah states is one of the ways that China wields influence in other parts of the world. This is one of the ways that China acts as a major power. There isn’t much incentive for China to stop associating with these states, especially when Chinese economic interests are involved. In the case of Syria, China is not isolating itself very much by opposing foreign military intervention there. There are many other states, including quite a few democracies, that reject military intervention in Syria. China’s position on Syria is not quite the major self-inflicted wound that Piekos makes it out to be. Like Russia, China risks courting the disfavor of some Arab governments with its Syria position, but it is also demonstrating that its policy will not be dictated to it by Arab states or Western governments. That seems to have its own value for Beijing. The reality is that Chinese “support” for Syria is mainly diplomatic and political, but it is even less than Russian or Iranian support, and it involves no tangible costs.
Being seen as a “responsible world power” may be useful, but if becoming a “responsible world power” requires China to acquiesce to every Western intervention the prospect may not be very appealing. Chinese opposition to intervention in Syria is doing much less to damage China’s reputation than some of its actions in the South China Sea. Even if China changed its position on Syria, it wouldn’t be given much credit for being a “responsible world power,” because its actions elsewhere would still disqualify it in the eyes of those who bestow this title. Becoming a “responsible world power” seems to mean one thing above all for rising powers, which is to put the policy goals of other states ahead of their own interests. Not surprisingly, the rising powers don’t think this is much of a bargain.
When the military took control of the Algerian government in the early 1990s, that country was plunged into a decade of civil war that killed hundreds of thousands. The U.S. and France continued to associate with the Algerian government throughout all of this, and they continue to associate with it to this day. In spite of this, the U.S. and France are presumably still considered to be “responsible world powers,” at least by people in the West. In much the same way, the Chinese government likely doesn’t see a contradiction between its position on Syria and its ability to be considered a “responsible world power.”