Chinese students debate stance on Syria

Young Chinese hopeful for better China
Young Chinese hopeful for better China

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Young Chinese hopeful for better China 03:29

Story highlights

  • Chinese students express unease about country's position on Syria
  • China joined Russia in vetoing U.N. Security Council resolution
  • Also rejected a U.N. General Assembly resolution against Syria
  • China fears further instability in the Mideast, favors diplomacy
In a small American cafe in downtown Beijing, a group of Chinese college friends are doing something that for their parents' generation may well have been unthinkable, having a good, old-fashioned political debate.
Over burgers and fries, they candidly open up to CNN about their country, its leaders, its success, and especially its failures.
"China is just so sensitive it can't take any criticism. That is China's problem," says Chris.
Alex, the only girl in the group, pipes up strongly, while David says, when it comes to influence and power, China is nowhere near the U.S.
"We don't have a superpower like the United States," he says.
You don't think China is? I ask.
"No, China is rising a power, but not really."
They have all adopted English names, speak the language fluently, even with traces of American accents, although they've never been out of their country.
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They're part of a new confident, educated generation, the Xi Jinping generation, watching their likely President-to-be strut the stage in Washington.
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They are coming of age in what some call "China's century." Their nation is an economic powerhouse, backed by growing military muscle. Analysts now talk of the "Beijing Consensus," a counter to Washington's influence.
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Critics say it is a "China first" policy, anti-democratic, rejecting western values. They accuse China of manipulating trade and supporting rogue regimes.
China is especially under fire now for joining Russia in a veto of a U.N. Security Council draft resolution denouncing the Syrian government's attacks on civilians and opposition groups.
Now China has followed that by joining a minority rejecting a successful United Nations General Assembly resolution against Syria.
At the American burger joint, some of these young Chinese college friends aren't comfortable with China's position.
"China and Russia have a lot of trade connection with Syria. China is the third-largest trade partner with Syria -- there is a lot of profit there," David says.
His friend Troy, though, is cynical of the United States' interest.
"I don't think the U.S is really all that concerned. I read in the newspaper where a lot of Christians are being killed by the opposition by rebels, by extreme Islamists. Look at Egypt, look at Libya, people are being killed. Does America care about Christians?" he asks.
China's stated position is to call for an end to violence, but through diplomacy and negotiation, not official sanction.
It fears instability and further unrest in an already turbulent Middle East.
"We believe the international community should fully respect Syrian sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity... we do not approve of armed intervention or forcing so-called regime change in Syria," says China's U.N. Deputy Ambassador, Wang Min.
China has dispatched an envoy to Damascus, to try to broker with Syria's Assad regime.
But many China-watchers paint a more complex picture. They talk of an emerging anti-Western China-Russia bloc. Some point to China's fear of the so-called "Arab Spring" spreading to its borders. China is already dealing with record levels of civil unrest.
China traditionally employs a foreign policy of non-engagement; "You mind your business -- we'll mind ours." But it's a foreign policy complicated by important trade with Europe and the U.S., a heavy reliance on Saudi oil, and an alliance with Iran. There is one too many uncomfortable bedfellows.
The "Beijing Consensus" is a work in progress, perhaps best summed up by our college friends.
The Beijing Consensus? I ask.
"Harmony," says Troy.
Chris chuckles. "Secrecy," he says