China — China Needs to Change Mideast Foreign Policy

China’s deci­sion to veto a con­dem­na­tion of Syria’s regime at the Unit­ed Nations Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil is just the lat­est sig­nal that illus­trates the need for a fun­da­men­tal change in Chi­nese for­eign policy. 

The ques­tion is no longer whether offi­cials in Bei­jing will aban­don the prin­ci­ple of non-inter­fer­ence in oth­er coun­tries’ affairs to pro­tect their expand­ing inter­ests around the globe. The ques­tion is when.

Chi­na joined Rus­sia in veto­ing last weekend’s res­o­lu­tion part­ly for fear that back­ing the UN’s rebuke of a government’s bru­tal sup­pres­sion of its peo­ple may come back to haunt Chi­na itself, giv­en its treat­ment of Tibetans and of Uighur Mus­lims in the Xin­jiang autonomous region. 

Yet China’s eco­nom­ic growth and asso­ci­at­ed need to secure resources increas­ing­ly have been at odds with this long-stand­ing pol­i­cy of being aloof. That’s espe­cial­ly true in the resource- rich region that stretch­es from the Atlantic coast of Africa to Cen­tral Asia and the sub­con­ti­nent, much of which is now in revolt. 

Over the past year, a series of inci­dents in the region have test­ed China’s non-inter­fer­ence pol­i­cy, but with­out seri­ous dam­age to the country’s image. With China’s veto of the UN res­o­lu­tion on Syr­ia, Chi­nese deter­mi­na­tion to cling to a prin­ci­ple root­ed in 19th-cen­tu­ry diplo­ma­cy seems set to backfire. 

Paint­ed Into Cor­ner

Rather than por­tray Chi­na as a glob­al pow­er that seeks good rela­tions with all and — unlike the U.S. — doesn’t med­dle in oth­er coun­tries’ affairs, last weekend’s veto of a rel­a­tive­ly tooth­less con­dem­na­tion of the regime in Dam­as­cus has paint­ed Chi­na into a cor­ner. The nation now appears to sup­port an inter­na­tion­al pari­ah that bru­tal­ly sup­press­es its peo­ple, a stance that risks roil­ing ties with some of China’s most impor­tant ener­gy sup­pli­ers in the Arab League, which spon­sored the defeat­ed UN resolution. 

In Libya, Chi­na ini­tial­ly avoid­ed its pol­i­cy dilem­ma. There, the Chi­nese abstained from vot­ing on a UN res­o­lu­tion that effec­tive­ly autho­rized inter­na­tion­al mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion in Libya on human­i­tar­i­an grounds. Chi­nese diplo­mats then went a step fur­ther. They sup­port­ed a Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion that imposed an arms embar­go and oth­er sanc­tions on the regime of Libyan leader Muam­mar Qaddafi, and endorsed refer­ral of the regime’s crack­down to the Inter­na­tion­al Crim­i­nal Court in the Hague. 

Chi­na cul­ti­vat­ed rela­tions with both Qaddafi’s embat­tled regime and the Beng­hazi-based rebels. Yet that even­hand­ed approach didn’t pre­vent the rebels from threat­en­ing a com­mer­cial boy­cott, par­tic­u­lar­ly after they found doc­u­ments pur­port­ing to show that Chi­nese defense com­pa­nies had dis­cussed the sup­ply of arms with Qaddafi oper­a­tives. A Chi­nese Min­istry of Com­merce del­e­ga­tion vis­it­ed Libya this week in a bid to recov­er at least some of the loss­es that Chi­na, Libya’s biggest for­eign con­trac­tor, suf­fered with the evac­u­a­tion last year of 35,000 work­ers who were ser­vic­ing $18.8 bil­lion worth of contracts. 

The Arab revolt is cer­tain to force not only a revi­sion of China’s pol­i­cy of non-inter­fer­ence but also of the employ­ment prac­tices of Chi­nese com­pa­nies. With new and long-stand­ing gov­ern­ments in the region des­per­ate to reduce unem­ploy­ment — a key dri­ver of the revolts — author­i­ties in Libya and else­where are like­ly to demand that Chi­nese con­struc­tion com­pa­nies employ local, rather than import­ed, labor. 

Social Media Crit­i­cism

More­over, Chi­nese author­i­ties have twice in recent days come under crit­i­cism in the country’s social media for the government’s inabil­i­ty to pro­tect work­ers abroad after 29 Chi­nese nation­als were kid­napped by rebels in Sudan’s volatile South Kord­o­fan province, and an addi­tion­al 25 were abduct­ed by restive Bedouin tribes­men in Egypt’s Sinai Desert. The crit­ics charged that as a super­pow­er, Chi­na need­ed to project its eco­nom­ic, as well as its mil­i­tary, mus­cle to stand up for those who put their lives at risk for the nation­al good — much like the U.S. sent Navy Seals to res­cue two hostages in Somalia. 

Cen­sors were quick to remove the crit­i­cal mes­sages from social media because they touched a raw nerve. A pol­i­cy of win­ning friends eco­nom­i­cal­ly rather than make ene­mies by flex­ing mil­i­tary mus­cle is increas­ing­ly incon­sis­tent with China’s dis­like of appear­ing weak and vul­ner­a­ble. Nation­al pride was at stake. The dilem­ma sparked pub­lic debate, with offi­cial media say­ing Chi­na needs time to build the nec­es­sary mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ty to inter­vene when its nation­als are in jeop­ardy, while oth­ers argue that China’s inac­tion may encour­age fur­ther attacks. 

The need for a revised approach to the Mid­dle East and North Africa, as well as coun­tries such as Pak­istan and Afghanistan, will become increas­ing­ly clear as Chi­na boosts its invest­ment in Cen­tral and South Asian nations before the sched­uled 2014 with­draw­al of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, where Chi­na has secured oil and cop­per rights. 

Reports that Chi­na is con­sid­er­ing estab­lish­ing mil­i­tary bases in Pakistan’s insur­gency-plagued north­west­ern trib­al areas near the bor­der with Afghanistan, and a naval base in the Balochis­tan port city of Gwadar, could cre­ate fur­ther pres­sure for change. Chi­na holds the Pak­istan-basedEast Turkestan Islam­ic Move­ment respon­si­ble for attacks last year in Xinjiang’s city of Kash­gar. Defeat­ing the move­ment is key to Chi­nese plans to keep region­al trade and ener­gy flow­ing, and the bases in Pak­istan may tempt Chi­na to take on a role as local policeman. 

If it takes an event to dri­ve a change of China’s for­eign pol­i­cy, Yemen may prove to be the spark. With $355 bil­lion worth of trade with Europe and a quar­ter of China’s exports trav­el­ing through Bab el Man­deb — the strait that sep­a­rates Yemen from Soma­lia and Dji­bouti — Chi­na can­not afford a col­lapse of law and order in Yemen. The cri­sis-rid­den coun­try is coun­ter­ing mul­ti­ple threats, includ­ing an al-Qae­da insur­gency after mass protests and inter­com­mu­nal fight­ing that forced the res­ig­na­tion of Pres­i­dent Ali Abdul­lah Saleh and paved the way for elec­tions lat­er this month. 

Pol­i­cy Breached Before

Chi­na has breached its non-inter­fer­ence pol­i­cy to respond to these pres­sures in the recent past. Its deploy­ment of naval ves­sels off the coast of Soma­lia to counter pira­cy, for exam­ple, con­sti­tut­ed the first Chi­nese ven­ture of its kind. 

But China’s sta­tus as an emerg­ing eco­nom­ic super­pow­er demands that it become a more mus­cu­lar glob­al actor to pur­sue its inter­ests. Ulti­mate­ly that will mean tak­ing posi­tions on domes­tic dis­putes and con­flicts around the world that have a bear­ing on China’s glob­al nation­al-secu­ri­ty inter­ests, the very oppo­site of the stance it adopt­ed on Syr­ia. Sim­i­lar­ly, Chi­na will need to main­tain mil­i­tary bases in key regions that serve to secure Chi­nese demand for nat­ur­al resources, and to sat­is­fy domes­tic calls to ensure the safe­ty of its nation­als abroad. 

In short, Chi­na will have to use vir­tu­al­ly the same tools employed by the U.S., shoul­der­ing the risks of a for­eign pol­i­cy that is inter­est-dri­ven and there­fore, at times, contradictory. 

About The Author:
James M. Dorsey is a senior fel­low at the S. Rajarat­nam School of Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies at Nanyang Tech­no­log­i­cal Uni­ver­si­ty in Sin­ga­pore and the author of the blog, The Tur­bu­lent World of Mid­dle East Soc­cer.

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →