The Syrian Crisis has ironically brought out a much more internationally engaged China than witnessed in the past.
Despite preaching non-interference, China's recent approach towards Syria shows a slight shift in Chinese foreign policy. A series of important diplomatic actions show China moving away from its traditional isolationist stance towards a behavior of more determined international engagement.
China previously vetoed two United Nations resolutions demanding that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad step down and that violence cease immediately in Syria.
China not only issued a 6-point statement stating its foreign policy about the conflict but also sent an envoy, Li Huaqing, a former Chinese ambassador to Syria, to pursue a dialogue with the Syrian government. A second envoy, assistant Foreign Minister Zhang Ming, will further discuss the Syrian peace plan when he visits Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and even France.
The 6-point statement calls for a ceasefire between Syrian rebels and the government, in addition to guaranteeing the international community's respect for Syrian sovereignty. The statement indirectly took a shot at the UN Security Council, admonishing any country's desire to meddle in Syria's internal affairs under the pretext of humanitarian aid.
The Chinese have been a key ally of Syria since the uprisings began almost a year ago. And indeed, the veto of the two UN Resolutions gave the impression that China was willing to protect the Assad administration in the eyes of the United States and European powers.
The Russian and Chinese vetoes are seen as having significantly helped al-Assad wage violence on Syrian citizens.
A typically isolationist country, China's advances to actively promote its non-intervention foreign policy is somewhat counterintuitive to the country's historical position in international relations.
In effect, the Chinese are taking matters into their hands. The Chinese envoys can be seen as counterweight to the UN-Arab League official former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
There is some debate over whether the Chinese strategy of non-intervention is a matter of principle or national interest. But no matter what side China's on, the Syrian crisis may prove to be a turning point in Chinese diplomacy.
China's extensive economic arrangements, trade, and investments are driving it to scrap its typical foreign policy role. China is reaching the limits of non-intervention, said Jamie Chandler, a political scientist at Hunter College in New York.
In 1956, China and Syria established official diplomatic ties. By the 1980's, Sino-Syrian relations tightened when China was willing to export intermediate-range missile technology to Syria after the Soviet Union's rejection of former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad's request. In 2004, the current President al-Assad visited China for the first time, solidifying the two countries' economic ties. Syria provides the Chinese economy with new markets. Since 2006, China has become Syria's largest trading partner.
China's investments in Syria consist mainly of energy contracts, refineries, tankers, manufacturing facilities, and even workers abroad. In fact, China recently pulled out its workers from Syria to avoid a repeat of the Libyan situation when close to 36,000 Chinese nationals rushed to flee the warring nation.
Many believe the Sino-Syrian relationship is deeply entrenched in energy investments. As of 2010, China became the world's largest oil consumer.
China has gravitated toward forming partnerships with rogue and unstable countries because they offer inexpensive energy contracts and trading opportunities, said Chandler.
Energy contracts in established countries have already been gobbled up by western powers, so if China wants to satisfy its voracious energy demands, it has no choice but to work with the fringe of the international community.
Beyond economic ties, China also considers Syria a strategic ally against Western leverage in the Middle East, said Dilshod Achilov, political scientist at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tenn.
Essentially, there are two Middle Eastern States that are closely in line with Chinese foreign policy - Syria and Iran.
If al-Assad's government were to fall, the new Syrian regime would most likely not accommodate the Chinese leadership.
The new regime is expected to be largely pro-Western. Moreover, because of the Chinese veto of the UN resolution last month, the new regime will be more likely to be skeptical, if not antagonistic, toward China in the future, said Achilov.
China does indeed have investments at stake in Syria, but these could be surface-level observations with respect to China's vehement non-intervention strategy.
The Point of These 6 Points
Professor James Hsiung of New York University argues that China's foreign policy towards Syria is one of principle.
From the 19th century on, China has been resentful of interventions. It is opposed to any intervention in any country as a matter of principle, said Hsiung.
China vetoing the two UN resolutions on Syria was a reaction to feeling cheated when the Libyan intervention occurred, according to Hsiung.
When the Security Council voted for the Libyan UN Resolution, both Russia and China abstained. So this time, China chose to veto the Syrian resolutions.
Some argue that China has sought to follow Russia's decisions to counter the Western powers, especially given that Syria and Libya are a part of Russia's sphere of influence.
The 6-point statement could potentially invalidate this argument as the Chinese take the lead before the Russians in the Syrian conflict, perhaps out of principle.
Although peaceful, the stated points seem to demand that the Syrian government and opposition rebels come together and open a dialogue without the help of a foreign, armed intervention.
At first glance, the points ask for the impossible. But as a diplomatic tool, Chandler and Dilshod both agree, the statement serves to secure China's middle-ground position as it awaits the outcome of the Syrian conflict.
However, the two Chinese envoys somewhat contradict this Chinese policy of 'neutrality.' Indeed, by sending the two senior government officials to enforce their non-intervention policy the Chinese are actually engaging themselves in the conflict, truly staking themselves to a position directly opposite of the Americans and Europeans.
The Syrian conflict can be interpreted as a global affairs exercise for the Chinese, in which the emerging power reveals a gradual shift in diplomacy - proactivity.