Libya gives Beijing a lesson in intervention

Discussion in 'China' started by amoy, Mar 4, 2011.

  1. amoy

    amoy Senior Member Senior Member

    Jan 17, 2010
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    By David Pilling

    People are starting to grasp how China is shaping the world. Its ravenous appetites for oil, iron ore, coal, copper, bauxite and countless other minerals are invigorating economies from Australia to Chile. Its huge carbon emissions are altering the debate about climate change. Its ever-shinier collection of military hardware is worrying generals in Taipei, Hanoi and Washington. Less understood, however, is the way that China,

    ever more integrated into the global economy, is itself being shaped by the world.

    That was evident this week in Libya. So far, Beijing has scrambled to evacuate 32,000 of the 35,000 Chinese working in the oil, rail, telecommunications and construction industries. In addition to 20 civilian aircraft, it sent four military transport planes to rescue thousands of stranded workers in what the Shanghai Daily said was first deployment of the air force in such an operation. It also dispatched a 4,000-ton missile frigate, the Xuzhou, to waters off Libya, 5,500 miles from its own capital.

    Linda Jakobson, programme director on China and global security at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, says the Libyan deployment marks a profound shift. It puts China on a par with the US, the UK and other advanced nations that can protect citizens far from home. One could view Beijing’s rescue effort as a display of its rippling power. But equally, it is evidence that, as China is sucked more deeply into the affairs of distant – and sometimes unstable – lands, its ability to stay out of trouble is diminishing by the day.

    Chinese foreign policy experts have long been worried about the vulnerability of increasing numbers of foreign nationals abroad. In 2007, 16 Chinese oil workers were kidnapped in Nigeria and nine were killed by rebels in Ethiopia. Before that, Beijing watched nervously in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami as governments of various nations, including Sweden, were criticised over their rescue efforts. In that crisis, China sent a cargo ship. The US dispatched the Seventh Fleet.

    The question of how to protect Chinese citizens abroad goes well beyond Libya. According to La Chinafrique, a book by French journalists Serge Michel and Michel Beuret, there are 50,000 Chinese workers in Nigeria, 20,000-50,000 in Sudan, 40,000 in Zambia, 30,000 in Angola, 20,000 in Algeria and thousands more scattered throughout Africa. Now Chinese state-owned companies are pressing into South America, another resource-rich region far from home.

    China has been bolstering its consular security, building up its intelligence-gathering capacity and training its military in evacuation drills. [/B]But the big question, says Jonathan Holslag, head of research at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary Chinese Studies, is whether Beijing will feel compelled to try to shape the political realities of the countries in which its companies operate.

    It may be years before China has the military capacity, or indeed the will, to embark on such a course. Any overt action would contravene its self-proclaimed doctrine of non-intervention and sully its narrative of a peaceful rise. Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Beijing’s Renmin University, plays down the possibility. “China doesn’t have the knowledge or the resources to prop up authoritarian governments in faraway places.”

    Events in Libya do demonstrate Beijing’s ability to reach across the globe. But equally, they also suggest China is being buffeted by events. Last weekend, Beijing, one suspects unwillingly, took the unprecedented step of voting for a UN Security Council resolution referring Muammer Gaddafi to the International Criminal Court. Like the US, China does not recognise the court’s jurisdiction. “This decision must have been a very difficult one for Beijing and something of a milestone in China’s passage to becoming a more fully fledged and participating member of the international community,” says Orville Schell, head of the Asia Society’s Center on US-China Relations.

    But as Bill Emmott, former editor of The Economist, points out in a Times opinion piece, backing the ICC – however reluctantly – exposes a tender flank. The suggestion that national leaders be judged by international norms undermines its non-interventionist doctrine, a sacred cow of foreign policy. Worse, it raises awkward questions about its own use of force at home. “In effect,” Mr Emmott writes, “China has just voted to refer Colonel Gaddafi to the ICC for having acted against his opponents in pretty much the same way as it did in 1989 with the Tiananmen Square revolt.”

    Ms Jakobson, who will shortly join Australia’s Lowy Institute, a think-tank, says the parallels between events in Libya and those in China in 1989 are precisely what induced Beijing to go along with the international consensus. “It doesn’t want to be the nail that sticks up. It wants to deflect attention and keep a low profile,” she says. But if events this week proved anything, it is that the days of China keeping its head down are over.

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