EDITORIAL: The New York Times - February 14, 2012
China, Russia and India see themselves as global leaders. So why have they been enabling two dangerous regimes, Syria and Iran, to continue on destructive paths?
On Tuesday, President Bashar al-Assad showed again his willingness to use brutal force to crush the pro-democracy opposition. He brushed aside stinging criticism by Navi Pillay, the top United Nations human rights official, and resumed the shelling of the city of Homs. The government has barred independent reporting for most of the yearlong unrest, but activists said rockets and tank shells had pummeled the city.
The violence has gotten worse in the 11 days since Russia and China vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution, sponsored by the Arab League, calling for a peaceful transfer of power. India was on the right side that day, voting for the resolution. But, for months, it had worked to block action. The resolution was no panacea, but, if it had passed, it would have sent a compelling message of international solidarity against Mr. Assad and the elites who keep him in power.
Many Syrian deaths later, China may be reconsidering its stance. As an oil-hungry nation, it could not have failed to hear the rebuke issued to China and Russia on Friday by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for opposing the resolution. “We are going through scary days and unfortunately what happened at the United Nations is absolutely regrettable,” he said.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China, speaking at a European-China summit meeting in Beijing, said, “What is most urgent and pressing now is to prevent war and chaos” in Syria. There is no evidence Russia has had similar second thoughts, but China is showing renewed interest in working with the Arab League. Beijing’s shift could shame Moscow into reconsidering its support for Mr. Assad, and approving United Nations action, including sanctions.
China and India are also hampering the effort to ratchet up sanctions on Iran even as penalties imposed by the Security Council, the United States and the European Union appear to be affecting Iran’s economy and politics. (The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is expected to announce on Wednesday that a new uranium enrichment plant is fully operational.)
China cut its purchases of Iranian oil this year and secured alternative supplies from Russia and Saudi Arabia. But it is still a major purchaser. India is also still buying and is now Iran’s biggest oil customer. Because of American sanctions, these deals are not as lucrative as they could be for Iran.
The two countries’ need for oil is real, but they should take full advantage of Saudi Arabia’s offer to ramp up production to offset any losses from Iran. The International Energy Agency says there is enough oil supply worldwide to prevent a price shock from an embargo.
We do not know if sanctions can force Iran to give up its nuclear program or force it to negotiate a compromise deal. But the international community is finally at a moment when serious sanctions are in place and beginning to bite. Iran is finding it hard to pay for food imports and has resorted to bartering. It’s time for Russia, China and India (which desperately wants a Security Council seat) to meet the test of leadership.
That means all three need to work to find ways to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions. For Russia and China, it means standing against Mr. Assad’s siege on his people.