Excellent commentary from Daniel Wagner, at RCW:
More important to the Chinese are the long-term implications of political change in Syria. Whether the west likes it or not, China is a player of growing importance in the Middle East. Given the animosity toward the U.S. that has developed in the region since the onset of the Arab Awakening, China must figure it can benefit by maintaining a low profile while remaining engaged in the process in less conventional ways.
Whoever prevails in Syria is likely to want to have China on its side, so China's go slowly, remain engaged in the background, and be prepared to support whoever comes out on top approach will undoubtedly yield benefits in due course. If Mr. Assad prevails, China can say it never stopped supporting him. If anti-Assad forces prevail, China can say it neither supported nor opposed Mr. Assad – keeping its options open in a fluid and unpredictable situation.
Whether anti-Assad forces would perceive this as genuine and whole-hearted is not really the important point. What is important is that China can extend a hand of friendship to whoever prevails and have a better chance of securing a meaningful long-term relationship, than if it had been less nimble and open minded. Neither Russia, Turkey, nor the U.S. can say that. As such, China may end up beating the great powers at their own game in Syria.
For the greater Middle East, this has broad implications. China is unlikely to adopt a different approach to political change in the region if its approach in Syria works well. One could envision a similar approach working in any number of GCC countries, should the need arise. Given China's growing economic and political importance, few countries in the region will want to have China as an enemy. Rather, they are likely to embrace a China that is seen as pragmatic, open minded, and supportive.