Posts Tagged ‘China-Libya’

A slight sideways step for me, though if you read it you will see there is some links to other stuff I have done, this is a paper commissioned by the Europe-China Research and Advice Network (ECRAN), an EU vehicle that funds research on China for European policymakers. I have written other papers for them in the past. This one was written late last year and focuses on China’s relations with the Middle East in the wake of the ‘Arab Spring’ and looks in particular at the cases of Libya, Syria, Egypt and Iran. The full paper can be found behind this link. I have pasted the introduction below.

Beyond this, I spoke to the Financial Times about jihadists in Syria and potential blowback in Europe, and to Bloomberg about Boko Haram.

Short Term Policy Brief 79

China and the Middle East

November 2013

Author: Raffaello Pantucci


What are China’s key strategic interests in the Middle East and what is the status of its relations with key countries in the region?

During his opening speech at the first China-Arab Expo (an event that had been upgraded from the previous Ningxia International Investment and Trade Fair and the China-Arab States Economic and Trade Forum), Yu Zhengsheng, Standing Committee of the Politburo member and fourth most powerful man in China, highlighted trade and energy as the two main pillars of Chinese-Arab cooperation.Delivered in September 2013, this speech crystallized a policy which has been abundantly clear for some time with China and the Middle East, where the policy priority and focusis on securing energy and developing trade partnerships, while remaining as detached as possible from the intransigent regional politics.

As prominent Qinghua academic in international affairs Yan Xuetong has put it, ‘China can strengthen cooperation economically with countries in the Middle East, but politically, it had better stick with declaring its stand…the complexity of the Middle East politics is far beyond our comprehension.’ With ample domestic turmoil and local difficulties to manage, Chinese
leaders have little appetite to be dragged into a region that has challenged western policymakers’ capabilities for decades.

Nevertheless, events in the wake of the Arab Spring have challenged China in a number of different ways, forcing it to re-evaluate long-held positions and think more deeply about the implications of its growing international footprint. Questions around citizen security were highlighted in the wake of the rushed evacuation of some 35,860 nationals as Libya collapsed, while the decision to abstain from the vote to impose a no-fly zone meant that resolution 1973 was passed. This led to questions about this possibly being a signal that Beijing might be adapting its position on Responsibility to Protect– something it had previously treated as anathema to its sacred ‘non-interference’ principle in international affairs. Particularly raised during the Libya crisis, both issues have hung heavy both over China’s considerations of other aspects of the fall-out from the Arab Spring in the broader Middle East. It remains, however, unclear that they have signalled a dramatic shift, rather than a course adjustment that means such issues are now a higher priority for Beijing policymakers.

Adjacent to these considerations are other larger questions about China’s geopolitical position. For example, the hawkish line often advanced that the current conflict in Syria is part of a larger trajectory of regime change that flows from Damascus, through Tehran to Moscow and Beijing is one that resonates amongst a certain (predominantly nationalist and military) community. This perspective is one that is echoed in Moscow, and is often touted as a reason why the two vote in lock-step with regards to the events of the Arab Spring, Syria and Iran. Chinese foreign policy thinkers who adhere to this perspective often see the world through a binary US versus China lens. For them, the Middle East is an ideological battleground where the US is seeking to upturn the table in favor of a new chaotic order that it controls, and one that will ultimately undermine Chinese national interests. Found amongst academics at prominent think tanks like CASS, it is unclear the degree to which such perspectives dominate senior levels of Chinese foreign policy thinking.

At the same time, China continues to be concerned about the spread of jihadist ideas (with little clear understanding of what motivates them or nurtures their growth) and the possibility that these might filter back into the Xinjiang autonomous region of northwest China still dominated by the Muslim Uighur ethnic group. There have been reports that Chinese nationals – both Uighur and non-Uighur – have participated in the fighting in Syria, and China has grown concerned by the growing appearance of jihadist videos and materials during investigations into violence in Xinjiang from the unrest there in July 2009 until today. China has also increasingly featured as a potential target in a growing array of jihadist material. Most recently, al Shabaab’s al Kataib media published a video in which they discussed the Uighur’s plight, while in May 2013 (though likely produced substantially before his reported death in December 2012) al Qaeda ideologue Abu Zaid al-Kuwaiti released a video through the Turkestan Islamic Party’s media wing, Islam Awazi, in which he provided ‘advice for the Muslims of East Turkestan.’ For China, the potential danger of becoming too involved in Middle Eastern politics is that the eyes of violent Islamists who have thus far focused on the west, might eventually turn to China and portray it as a target– a situation Beijing has thus far managed to avoid thanks to careful diplomacy and the fact that Islamists remain focused on the west as the principle ‘far enemy’. However, Beijing’s concerns remain heightened in the wake of a number of incidents. For example, the suicide attack in Tiananmen Square Beijing in early November 2013 was linked to a Uighur Muslim protester, and was subsequently praised, but not claimed, in a video by TIP. That particular incident came in the wake of110 detentions in Xinjiang of people accused of ‘disseminating religious extremism and material. Highlighting the ongoing violence in the province, in December there was another incident at a police station in Bachu County outside Kashgar that led to 11 deaths (the same county saw 21 killed in another incident in April 2013). All of these examples help underline how nervous the central leadership in Beijing are about this issue.

But these worrying local concerns remain secondary to more large-scale energy concerns, something that reflects a long-standing pragmatism in Chinese foreign policy towards the Middle East. Back in 1994, leader Jiang Zemin highlighted that China should oppose ‘hegemony’ by helping dissident states in the Middle East like Iran, but at the same time should ensure that international stability remains sound in order to facilitate China’s ongoing growth and development. This approach is one that resonates today, where, for example, China is clearly supportive of Moscow’s approach towards Syria and Iran through
measures in the UNSC, but at the same time takes a secondary seat to Russia’s willingness to take a more prominent position in making its point.

For example, in the wake of the use of chemical weapons in Ghouta, east Damascus, Syria on August 21, 2013, the Russian government took the lead in countering the western push to define this as the red line that justified intervention against the Assad regime and instead worked to develop a way for Syria to give up its chemical weapons. Russia’s public interventions culminated in an opinion editorial in the New York Times on September 11, 2013 by President Vladimir Putin. In contrast, throughout this period China made regular statements through the Foreign Ministry, but avoided much further publicity. At the regular MFA briefings, Hong Lei offered support for the Russian efforts: ‘the Russian proposal offers an important opportunity to ease the current tension and properly address the international community’s concerns about Syria’s chemical weapons.’ They later offered Chinese experts to participate in the disarmament assurance group, but otherwise remained relatively low profile. China is publicly supportive of Russia’s positions on Syria, but is not as eager to attract the sort of confrontation that Russia seems to prefer. This Quietist approach to foreign policy is something that can be found across China’s foreign policy agenda.Ultimately, China does not seek to upset the international order that is allowing it to slowly grow into the world’s largest power.

This brief paper touches upon Syria, Egypt, Libya and Iran. This is not a comprehensive overview of China’s relations in the region, but highlights the priority ones as requested by ECRAN. Amongst the important relationships omitted, China continues to be willing to cultivate close relationships with both Israeli and Palestinian authorities, but beyond proposing general suggestions about peace processes, has not engaged in the minutiae of the conversation (nor is it likely to want to). On Iraq, China has profited quite effectively from the toppling of the old regime to get its firms in to develop Iraqi fields (something it has been able to do in part thanks to western firms’ concerns about going in to the country), while Saudi Arabia remains one of China’s biggest energy partners, notwithstanding the mute background of Saudi-style wahhabbist ideology slowly filtering in through Gulf money into Xinjiang. Thus far, Chinese officials have not chosen to acknowledge this linkage too publicly, although some academics discuss the growing spread of such ideas and suggest Saudi Arabia as one of the possible origins. None of these relationships currently seem in any sort of dramatic shift and therefore are placed to one side.

A new article in today’s 东方早报 (Oriental Morning Post), a daily paper in China that I write a semi-regular column for. This was intended to come out last week talking a bit about China’s growing problems with citizens abroad and the dangerous places they are, and was meant to be pegged to the kidnapping the workers in Sudan, but it took a bit longer than expected. Consequently, there is no mention of the Syrian veto, which I might have added some comment on. Maybe a short piece later this week on that topic. But in the meantime, I have pasted the English I submitted below, and the Mandarin version below that. The title of this post is the title they ended up going with.

Why Do They Hate Us?

This has been a busy week for Chinese concerns abroad. In Egypt a group of 25 men were kidnapped and then released as part of a local dispute, while in Norway a court case was concluded in which the plotters had, amongst other targets, discussed aiming at the Chinese Embassy in Oslo, and in Sudan a group of 29 Sinohydro employees languish in custody under the “protection” of rebels. Chinese citizens and interests seem to increasingly be coming under target abroad, an unavoidable reality that offers China a moment to finally come out from its shell and become an active player in global affairs.

None of the scenarios listed above is particularly new. We have seen numerous Chinese workers and citizens toiling in foreign lands get into trouble before now. One need only look back last year to the over 30,000 Chinese workers who had to be evacuated from the chaos in Libya, and the thousands of others rescued from Egypt and Tunisia. In part this is the result of the fact that Chinese workers are increasingly finding themselves going to more dangerous parts of the world to dig for resources or build infrastructure and in part it is because there are simply so many Chinese workers now being sent all around the world. But in addition, it is because people now realize that snatching Chinese citizens is something that will guarantee getting attention.

This is the darker side of becoming a global power. Becoming the world’s second largest nation by GDP is something to be proud of, but it is also going to attract a certain amount of unwanted attention. This comes from people who are angry and feel they are missing out, people who are looking for a quick buck and see that China is now flush with money (and therefore see Chinese workers as rich pickings), but also people who have causes that they want global attention for. It used to be that if you wanted to get headlines for your cause, you had to snatch a group of westerners (look at the unknown numbers of Europeans being held by al Qaeda linked groups and criminal networks in North Africa) – nowadays, it is clear that Chinese workers will guarantee you the same sort of attention.

In something of a self-propagating cycle, this increased attention comes in part as a result of increased Chinese government efforts to go in and save citizens that have gotten into trouble in dark corners of the globe. Since the workers were snatched in Sudan the story has been front-page news in China, forcing pressure on the Chinese government to go and do something about it. Teams have been dispatched by Beijing while news outlets churn out news and Weibo is full of people discussing the fate of the group and evaluating the government’s response. All of which is having the effect of bringing attention to the group in Sudan who had kidnapped the Sinohydro workers, which is exactly what they wanted.

The Chinese officials that have been sent out to resolve this issue will find themselves being involved in a local conversation that China has been part of for a while. For selfish reasons of investment protection, China has long played a constructive role in trying to bring resolution to Sudan’s problems, and these previously nurtured contacts will no doubt help bring this latest situation to a close. And this reality highlights the very shifting nature of China’s role in the world and the long cherished “non interference principle.” Clearly the time has not come for China to start to gallop around the world asserting itself, but the time is happening that China is being forced to play a role in world affairs if only to protect its increasingly broad and diverse interests.

China is now seen as a global power. This reality has two results that come with it: a domestic audience who increasingly feel as though their government should be doing more to advance and protect their interests in the world, and a certain amount of antagonism globally, as China becomes part of the “resented face of globalization” as one American academic put it a couple of years ago. All of which requires China to be actively engaged in international affairs to ensure that their interests and people can be protected globally.

None of this is to call for China to start actively interfering in others affairs, but clearly a deeper understanding and engagement of the world is important. Rapid response teams need to be developed that are attuned to local issues that can be deployed to help citizens in distress and local embassies need to ensure that they have a good sense of how many citizens are actually in their area. One problem to have emerged from the Arab Spring last year was a sense that Chinese ministries had no clear idea of how many citizens were actually working in some of these countries – getting a grasp on this is important in figuring out how to prepare. In addition, China needs to build on its already positive forward posture taken with the anti-piracy missions off Somalia and its activity in peacekeeping operations globally to establish a more cooperative approach to its involvement in international missions to address global problems. China clearly benefits from aspects of the security umbrella that the United States and other western powers project, contributing more to these efforts is something that would be in everyone’s interests.

But there is a deeper psychological aspect to this question. Not the argument that China should do more in the world (the debate that China is a “global free-rider is an old one), but the fact that Chinese citizens are now starting to find themselves edging around the incomprehensible global dilemma “why do they hate us?” In the wake of September 11, 2001, American’s woke up to this and realized that there were people in the world who deeply resented the path their nation was taking. This was a shock to a country that had always viewed its role in international affairs as essentially benign and positive. And in China now we are starting to see the contours of this same debate. As China ascends, no matter how hard it tries to remain a benign force, it will find itself taking sides and those on the other side will resent China as a result. This will have a knock-on effect that can be very hard to predict, but will leave some Chinese citizens wondering what it is they have done to deserve this. Unfortunately, this is a reality of the world that we live in where there are winners and losers and those on the bottom will use any means they can to get at those at the top.

潘睿凡 2012-02-08 03:24
潘睿凡  国际激进主义研究  中心研究员









但这个问题也另外有着深刻的心理因素。且不提“在世界上发挥更多的作用”这类话题(“中国在全球搭顺风车”,这已经是老生常谈),而现在的实际情况就是,中国人发现他们正逐渐陷入这样一种难以理解的窘境——“他们为什么不喜欢我们?” 回头看看2001年的美国,到9月11日那天他们才恍然发现,原来这世上竟有人是如此地憎恨其“美式道路”。这令一个一直自豪于自己善意积极之国际角色的国家大为震惊。而在中国,我们已经依稀看到了相似的问题轮廓。随着中国的崛起,无论它怎样努力地保持低姿态,它还是会发现,总有人站在其对立面。这将引发哪些间接后果,也许现在还难以预料,但这肯定会让一些中国人心生疑惑——我们哪里做错了?而这个世界的残酷现实就是:这世上,有人输、有人赢,那些最底下的人势必会用尽一切手段来找你的麻烦。(白澜 译)