China’s Janus-faced response to the Arab revolutions

Posted: June 2, 2011 in European Council on Foreign Relations
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A longer paper for ECFR with Jonas looking at China and the Arab Spring. It has managed to pop out before a longer piece on EU-China I am working on, but hopefully that should also land soon. The whole paper can be found here, with a slight typo in my name. The published text to release it is below.

 

China’s Janus-faced response to the Arab revolutions

China’s zigzagging response to the Arab revolutions: How Europe can benefit

China was caught off guard by the Arab revolutions. Its first response in Libya was to go along with international sanctions against Gaddafi for abuses on his people while undertaking its largest evacuation mission of Chinese citizens. It then changed tack and verbally opposed international military action. The protection of citizens abroad didn’t extend internally in China, where a crackdown was carried out in response to minor breezes of the Jasmine Spring.

This zigzagging response to the crisis points to the new pressures that Beijing is under, from growing international interests, pressuring traditional non-interference principles abroad, to a population that is also increasingly connected to events across the globe.

A new policy memo published by the European Council on Foreign Relations, China’s Janus-faced response to the Arab revolution, explores these arguments. The authors, Jonas Parello-Plesner andRaffaello Pantucci, argue that:

  • China has now laid down a ‘responsibility to protect’ its own citizens abroad. China’s international interests (it had an estimated 38,000 nationals in Libya, along with contracts worth $18.8 billion) mean it can no longer remain aloof from developments like the Arab revolutions.
  • Beijing’s behaviour is increasingly influenced by relationships with other nations, for instance South-South cooperation. Its initial support for sanctions in Libya was influenced by the stance of Arab nations and the Arab League.
  • Beijing’s domestic crackdown, including the arrest of artist Ai Weiwei, demonstrate the authorities’ concerns about increasing connections to the outside world and the internal development of a bustling public sphere with more than 400 million internet users and where microblogs are used to dodge censorship and expose official corruption.

Click here for the pdf of the memo

The authors argue that the EU has the opportunity to push for Chinese responsibility on the international stage because China sees a pragmatic need to protect its investments and citizens. They recommend that:

  1. The EU should engage with China on framing stability in a broader bandwidth and look at joint approaches to crisis management and good governance in third countries.
  2. EU should develop a strategy for influencing China through others, as Arab and African reactions to Libya counted more than Western pressure. A discreet China component could be added to EU dialogues with other emerging countries.
  3. The EU needs to remain vocal and consistent on Chinese human rights and internal reforms.

“Chinese zigzagging is a reflection of a broader realisation that its previous posture of absolute non-interference is increasingly at odds with its global economic presence.”

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