Rising Powers Initiative - Sigur Center for Asian Studies
Policy Alert #143 - April 26
Trump's Missile Strike in Syria Continues to Reverberate in Rising Powers
On April 12, 2017, the UN Security Council voted on a resolution which aimed to condemn the reported use of chemical weapons in northern Syria on April 4 and to demand that all parties provide speedy access to investigation. China abstained from voting on the UN resolution. Liu Jieyi, China's Ambassador to the UN, said, "China opposes the use of chemical weapons by any state, organization and individual under any circumstances." China also has not made any rebuke over the US military operation against Syria which was carried out on April 4; China-US Focus reported, "Pending the outcome of an independent investigation of the alleged 'use of chemical weapons,' China will not render unconditional support to the US position."
Despite the careful and hesitant reaction from the Chinese government, Chinese commentators expressed an array of opinions on the situation in Syria.
- On China-US Focus, Liu Haiyang, a research fellow at Nanjing University, questioned the legality of the US' action.
- A Global Times op-ed asserted that "The US' decision to attack the Assad government is a show of force from the US president. He wants to prove that he dares to do what Obama dared not." Furthermore, the commentator argued that "the US military strikes could lead to a "falling out" between the US and Russia. Neither Russia nor Iran will remain silent on the attack nor sit idly by and accept the fallout."
- According to He Wenping, Senior Fellow at Chahar Institute, the US military strike "exposed the recklessness, impulsiveness and lack of sophistication of the Trump team in the diplomatic arena." She continued, "On the domestic front, the airstrikes could help Trump distance himself from the sticky allegations that he has unusually close ties with Russia" and "on the international front, it could be helpful in shaping and polishing Trump's image and prestige as a "tough man", and in showing US' global leadership in terms of morality, values and military prowess." However, overall, "The US airstrikes, which angered Russia, Syria and Iran, are obviously detrimental to the cooperation within the global anti-terror alliance, and probably, the IS terrorists were the only ones who were actually cheering amid the explosions of Tomahawk cruise missiles."
Several commentators in Global Times, a nationalist newspaper, pondered the implications of US intervention in Syria on North Korea.
The Indian government has yet to officially comment on the US missile strike in Syria.
- Regarding the silence from the Indian government, Scroll.in commented "India has retired from the world, even as it seeks greater visibility in global forums and aspires to superpower status. It no longer lays claim to a moral voice that may be heard beyond its borders."
- Riad Abbs, ambassador of Syria in India, reportedly said Syria is happy with India's "balanced" stand on the crisis.
Several commentators expressed opinions on the crisis in Syria itself.
Overall, Indian commentators were critical of the US missile strike in Syria.
- An editorial on The Hindu, a left-leaning newspaper, called the US missile attack on Syria "a reckless intervention." The commentator also raised questions of the legality of the strike: "The UN Charter clearly states that any attack on another country needs Security Council approval unless it is an act in self-defense... Mr. Trump could have waited for the UN to complete its probe into the chemical attack before initiating military action, while simultaneously working to build a consensus on Syria at the UN Security Council."
- For The Times of India, a center-right newspaper, "the latest US military action makes the Syrian mess worse." The commentator asserted that "Washington now finds itself in a position where it is fighting both the Islamic State terror group and government forces."
- An Indian Express commentator thought the US strike on Syria was "unguided" and argued that "strikes aren't likely to achieve much." Besides, the writer noted that "President Vladimir Putin... will ... benefit among Russian hawks, for whom will be further evidence that their country is waging a long war against jihadists secretly supported by the West."
A few commentators argued that the action from US was meant to boost America's image in the international as well as domestic arenas rather than to help resolve the crisis.
- The Indian Express published a column titled "It's About US, not Syria," which presented a critical analysis of American action. According to the columnist, "The US does not have the political will or wherewithal to engage in full-scale war or induce regime change in Syria, at least not alone. But it cannot be seen not to be doing nothing. So the default option is a variety of "low cost" options..." Furthermore, the columnist argued that "America's strikes aim at maintaining its ideological self-image, not solving a major humanitarian crisis."
- A columnist in The Pioneer, pro-ruling party newspaper, argued that "it would have been better for the truth to have been fully established before any action was taken." Given that the US struck without a clear conclusion regarding the responsible party, the columnist said, "If President Donald Trump wanted to send out the message that he would not sit back and watch as his predecessor did even if the 'red line' was crossed, perhaps he has managed to impress his constituents back home."
Some commented on how US intervention may have impacted other states.
- A week after the American intervention in Syria, an editorial in Hindustan Times reported "Russia and US ties are going downhill, despite Trump's initial bonhomie."
- According to The Wire, "The impunity with which the US has been able to fire 59 missiles from ships sitting in the international waters off the Syrian coast" should make China very nervous. The commentator continued, "What must make Trump's action even more alarming to Beijing is the casual insouciance with which it was taken, a quick visit to the 'situation room' at Mar Del Lago, virtually between soup and the first course, as he was entertaining Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida." The commentator thought that, "In Beijing's eyes, this has vindicated it's decision to declare the entire South China Sea a core security region, seek to impose an identification protocol on all military planes and warships entering the region, and build a military runway on Fiery Cross reef."
Several editorials in The Japan Times expressed frustration with the Trump administration for the lack of a coherent and consistent policy agenda.
Relations with Russia was also a point of focus for a few commentators.
Although Korean newspapers reported on the events in Syria, only a few published opinion pieces. An examination of those op-eds indicates that most of the Korean commentators analyzed the air strikes in Syria with North Korea in mind.
Brazil's media has been reporting on the Syrian-US developments since early April.