I am currently attending the annual conference of the International Studies Association in San Diego. At the publishers' exhibition I picked up the February 27 issue (Number 152) of the Asia Pacific Bulletin published by the East-West Center (http://EastWestCenter.org/APB), 'Syria: What China has learned from its Libya experience' by Yun Sun.The author presents a very useful survey of China's involvement in the Middle East that is of interest to scholars of soft power. We know, for example, that China attracted a barrage of international criticism for its joint veto (with Russia) of a UN Security Council Resolution on Syria. It is important to note, however, that such behaviour is consistent with China's principle of non-interference in the affairs of sovereign states, an approach to foreign policy that can be traced back to the 1949 revolution and which has only recently been challenged by more active involvement in UN peacekeeping operations. In other words, it is possible to argue that the decision to veto the Resolution demonstrates China's soft power in action, if by soft power we mean the projection of ideals and values a country upholds.
Yun Sun makes the point that China's decision on Syria was based on its experience of abstaining on the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 to approve NATO intervention in Libya in 2011. This abstention had actually undermined China's soft power at home ('domestic nationalists criticised Beijing for "compromising its principles" and "acquiescing to Western demands"') and abroad (' ... with some countries questioning the independence of China's foreign policy and its ability to handle Western pressure'). In other words, it is possible that China's decision to abstain in the vote on Libya damaged its soft power capacity: China's behaviour was not consistent with Chinese foreign policy values and principles. Moreover, China's soft power is now enhanced not only by attempts to engage with the Syrian opposition to the Assad regime (the Syrian National Committee met with the Chinese Foreign Minister on Africa and West Asia only 24 hours after the vote in the UN), but also by China's active search for a non-military solution to the Syrian problem. This is the kind of behaviour that can make a huge difference to China's ability to claim soft power capital.