China's Mild-Mannered Syria Diplomacy

China has maintained a very low profile thus far on the Syria question. As is so often the case at the Security Council, it has preferred to let Moscow take the lead. While Russian diplomats relish skewering the West, China's officials almost always prefer a milder approach. Reuters reports this morning on the latest bromides from the Chinese foreign ministry:

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei would not say explicitly whether Beijing would back or oppose the French proposal, but implied some reservations.

"China supports the U.N. Security Council in playing an important role on issues of world peace and security and is willing to remain in touch with all sides on the next steps by the security council," he told a daily news briefing.

"We also believe that action by the Security Council must be based on consensus reached after full discussions by all sides, should help ameliorate the present tension in Syria, be helpful to maintaining peace and stability in Syria and the region and be helpful to a political resolution."

While their tones are very different, it's highly unlikely that Moscow and Beijing will diverge if and when it comes time to vote.

The Multilateralist

The Perils of Prejudging the United Nations

As the byzantine diplomacy on Syria continues, one thing is clear. In a dynamic environment, the UN Security Council can move from the cheap seats to center stage very quickly. At least for a moment, the multilateral process that President Obama described as "hocus pocus" is getting another look. The New York Times notes the  sudden shift:

[A] senior White House official said Tuesday that administration officials — who just last week had been dismissing the United Nations as ineffective in the Syrian conflict — had begun working with American allies at the United Nations to further explore the viability of the Russian plan, in which the international community would take control of the Syrian weapons stockpile. 

It's quite possible this will all amount to nothing, and that the West will ultimately strike Syria without the Council's blessing. But the volte-face is a good reminder that blanket judgements on the organization's utility are ill-advised. The Council is an important diplomatic tool but its impact is always going to depend on the particular political dynamics at work. Acknowledging that reality is difficult for both sides of the often overheated debate about the organization.