China’s New Flexibility on Foreign Intervention

One man, fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi, sparked the Arab Spring with his self-immolation in the Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid in January 2011. Since then, leaders in Beijing have grappled with how to handle the political fallout of the democratic youth-quakes reverberating across the Middle East and North Africa. China’s initial response was to advocate stability, return to normalcy and hold high the banner of state sovereignty. This familiar spinal reaction is the logic of the five principles of peaceful co-existence laid down in 1949 by Mao Zedong as guidelines for China’s foreign policy. Yet, in the course of events in Arab world, Beijing’s stance shifted from resistance to foreign intervention to a surprising abstention on the March 2011 UN Security Council vote on Resolution 1973, which aimed to halt Gaddafi regime’s onslaught on rebel groups in Libya. In February 2012 China backtracked to its usual principle of non-interference and together with Russia vetoed a draft resolution to end horrific violence in Syria. China’s wobbling on intra-state conflict is puzzling to scholars and policymakers. How then can China’s recent veto behavior in UNSC be explained? Previous Chinese actions vis-à-vis the war atrocities inside Sudan provide insights. While China still cherishes principle of state sovereignty, Beijing has actually over time become more socialized into framework of international norms. It’s well-known that China does not condone whatsoever any criticism of Chinese policies regarding Taiwan or the regions of Xinjiang and Tibet. Less understood is under what conditions China may accept infringements on sovereignty far from its own territory. It’s tempting to read China’s shifting posture as purely driven by external resource dependency and capitalist expansion. Arguably, however, the three capitals of Khartoum, Juba and Beijing have mutual vulnerabilities. The two Sudanese states, especially South Sudan are in desperate need of investments for development. With more than US$12.5 billion invested in petro-sector, much of it in the disputed Abyei and South Kordofan oilfields, China has both substantial leverage and vulnerability. China’s power and potential mediator role in the escalating border conflict between governments in Khartoum and Juba was illustrated by the news of a 29 April agreement that China and South Sudan had agreed on an infrastructure development package, mostly consisting of loans and investments, worth US$8 billion, a huge figure which has not, however, been confirmed by Chinese state officials. China’s concern for stability is motivated out of pecuniary self-interest, of course, but other factors that make Beijing vulnerable also determine China’s behavior on Sudan. China cares about its reputation. In the run-up to 2008 Beijing Olympics, international activists and US lawmakers branded event as “genocide Olympics,” pointing to China’s negligence on atrocities in the Darfur region. China acted fast. In September 2006, Beijing went out of its way to persuade the government of Sudan to accept UN Security Council Resolution 1769, thus endorsing the UN-African Union hybrid peacekeeping mission, UNAMID. Beijing can tolerate a universalistic discourse on human rights, as shown by its statement on the Darfur crisis as a “humanitarian disaster” (…..)



Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional


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