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China's New Roles and Behaviour in Conflict-Affected Regions: Reconsidering Non-Interference and Non-Intervention

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 March 2019

Miwa Hirono*
Affiliation:
College of International Relations, Ritsumeikan University.
Yang Jiang
Affiliation:
Danish Institute for International Studies. Email: yaji@diis.dk.
Marc Lanteigne
Affiliation:
University of Tromsø – The Arctic University of Norway. Email: marc.lanteigne@uit.no.
*
Email: hirono-1@fc.ritsumei.ac.jp (corresponding author).
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Abstract

China's view on the sanctity of state sovereignty has slowly but inexorably been transformed, and the country has found it difficult to continue to adhere to the principles of non-interference and non-intervention with the same degree of rigour as during the Cold War era. This special section will explore what the principles mean to China today; why and how Beijing has become active in peacebuilding and conflict mediation; and what implication China's approach to the principles has for its position in the global liberal order. This article sets the scene by firstly demonstrating that defining the principles has always been a political act, and secondly offering new discussions about how China's expanding economic power forced the country to more actively engage in politics of conflict-affected regions. Finally, it offers a conceptual framework to explain why and how China has become increasingly active in peacebuilding and conflict mediation.

摘要

中国对 “主权神圣不可侵犯” 的认识已经发生了缓慢但不可逆转的变化。中国已经很难像冷战时期那样继续严格坚持不干涉和不干预内政的原则。这一期特辑探讨不干涉不干预原则对今天的中国来说有什么内涵; 中国为什么以及怎样积极参与和平建设与冲突调解; 中国对该原则的应用方式对其在国际自由秩序中的地位有什么影响。这一篇文章介绍问题的以下背景: 首先, 对不干涉不干预原则的定义一直是个政治性的过程; 其次, 中国的经济实力的扩展迫使中国更积极参与冲突地区的政治。最后, 这篇文章提出新的理论框架来解释中国为什么以及怎样更积极地参与和平建设与冲突调解。

Type
Introduction
Copyright
Copyright © SOAS University of London 2019 

No country in the world can enjoy absolute security. A country cannot have security while others are in turmoil, as threats facing other countries may haunt itself also. When neighbours are in trouble, instead of tightening his own fences, one should extend a helping hand to them.

Xi Jinping, speech to the United Nations Office in Geneva, January 2017

Introduction: China's Growing Security Spectrum

One of the key questions in current international politics discourse is not whether China will become a great power, but rather what sort of great power the country will be. What are Beijing's foreign policy goals as its security interests expand, and what does the Chinese leadership under President Xi Jinping deem to be the most appropriate strategies to achieve those goals? These questions become salient at a time when the current state and future of the post-Second World War global liberal order are coming under increasing strain. Analysts have begun questioning the sustainability of this order, having seen the current uncertainties in American and European foreign policy and the overall state of the West. In the context of the rising number of interstate and domestic conflicts, global policy prescriptions in the current liberal order often fail to offer sufficient solutions. Examples abound, including in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, but also in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa where weak states and insecure borders have resulted in emerging security challenges.

This special section discusses the implications of China's rise in the changing global liberal order by focusing on international intervention policies and practices, and the questions for Beijing of “non-interference” and “non-intervention.” Could Beijing construct a new global norm for these policies as an alternative to Western-dominated ones, and if so how? The answers could be linked to the argument that Beijing is shaping many aspects of the global governance to become more in line with its own visions and interests, including via bilateral diplomacy and global initiatives such as emerging financial institutions and the “Belt and Road” (yidai yilu 一带一路, or BRI) trade routes promoted since 2013 by President Xi.Footnote 1

In response to these open-ended questions, the following articles will examine China's changing roles and behaviour in conflict-affected regions, emphasizing Beijing's evolving approaches to the principles of non-interference and non-intervention, in intra-state and regional conflicts. Beijing's long-held principles of non-interference and non-intervention form the basis of a nuanced and multidimensional understanding of China's position in the global liberal order, as China's adherence to those principles was one of the key elements applied to distinguish China from the so-called “international community,” primarily the West, in the late- and post-Cold War period. Since the 1950s (except during certain periods when China did intervene in other countries, as will be discussed below), China had largely adhered to the principles of non-interference and non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other countries.

However, as the country's global strategic and commercial interests expanded with its emergence from international isolation in the late 1970s, and especially since the period of “deep reform” in the 1990s, Beijing's view on the sanctity of state sovereignty has slowly but inexorably been transformed. External factors have played a role in this change. These include a shift in global power away from Cold War bipolarity and towards a more unipolar system, and a shift in global economic power more overtly towards the Asia-Pacific region. Endogenous factors, including Beijing's growing international economic and strategic interests as well as increasing numbers of Chinese citizens abroad who have been affected and sometimes threatened by crises and conflicts in other countries, are also relevant. Moreover, increasingly open debates about the rights and responsibilities of China as a great power have emerged in the country, making it increasingly difficult for Beijing to adhere to its previously rigid principles of non-interference and non-intervention. These changes have taken place within a milieu of domestic-level debates concerning China's foreign policy directions as the Xi government expands its global interests, as Camilla Sørensen details in her article.

With these changes in mind, three important questions guide this special section:

  1. 1) What do the principles of non-interference and non-intervention mean to China today? Has China already departed from its previous adherence to these principles, and if so how?

  2. 2) Why, and how, has China become active in peacebuilding and conflict mediation, especially under the Xi government?

  3. 3) What implications does China's approach to the principles of non-interference and non-intervention have for its position in the global liberal order?

The examination of these questions will address three major omissions within the current literature. First, there have been few comparative analyses of China's cross-regional diplomacy in relation to crisis management, intra-state conflicts, and war-to-peace transitions. Current work on Beijing's regional relations has tended to focus on economic and military activities at the state level, including the BRI and recent maritime and territorial disputes. Regarding strategic matters, China had traditionally concentrated on state-to-state diplomacy, largely restricted to the governmental level, but as the articles in this special section demonstrate, recent behaviours suggest that the country has begun involving itself in intra-state security issues, including in Africa and the Middle East. Comparative analyses of China's regional diplomacy towards conflict-affected regions have revealed a new phase in the debate about the implications of the rise of China for the global liberal order, and also about the nature of China as a great power.

Second, there exist few studies defining the principles of non-interference and non-intervention in theory and practice within a Chinese context. These principles, while lacking agreed-upon definitions in the West, represent a greater puzzle for China as a rising power and a country with a tangled history of internal conflicts since well before the establishment of the People's Republic. Moreover, the types of security challenges that the entire global community is facing, with greater incidences of civil conflicts and hybrid warfare, are not those observed in previous decades. As Sørensen details, Beijing is searching for what it means to conduct a “legitimate great power intervention” so that such a new concept reflects China as a responsible great power while distinguishing its policies from those of the West, especially the United States. Beijing must accomplish this while deflecting global criticisms about an assertive Chinese strategic agenda, especially given ongoing security concerns closer to Chinese frontiers, such as the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.

To better address the issue on non-interference and non-intervention in intra-state conflicts and to better understand how Beijing may be developing its own model to address these events, it is necessary to examine the wide variety of ways in which China engages in modern intra-state conflicts. The case studies included in this special section range from highly visible ones like Afghanistan, to more limited wars and crises of instability in such weak or fragile states as Mali and Yemen, and to problems of complex regional politics in the Middle East. This variety of case studies underscores China's multidimensional approaches to addressing intra-state and regional conflicts, while also accentuating that a doctrine or authoritative guideline on this issue remains to be fully elucidated by Beijing. These case studies will also reflect on China as a rising power, one which is still trying to construct a grand strategy that reflects its emerging status while also presenting new principles. In many cases, Beijing still suffers from a form of qiechang 怯场 or “stage fright,”Footnote 2 when taking up the cause of intra-state conflicts as a great power, especially when conflicts rage far from Chinese borders. However, with China seeking to modernize its cross-regional diplomacy with new financial regimes and the BRI enterprises, the country can no longer afford to “jump off the stage” when a complex security problem appears, even when it is far from Chinese shores.

Third, and related to the second issue above, studies on the relationship between China and conflict-affected regions tend to focus on traditional international politics and economic relations, rather than on the intersection between international issues and Chinese domestic concerns. The following case studies not only explain how and why China is rising to become an established power, but also explore how Beijing attempts to coordinate complex economic and political strategic interests, making choices in addressing the problems of intra-state conflicts, and most importantly integrating international and domestic concerns as they pertain to non-traditional security, peacebuilding and intra-state and regional conflicts. These issues are extremely important at a time of the return of great power politics, not only involving China but also with the uncertainty of American foreign and security policies under a mercurial Donald Trump administration, as well as a potentially resurgent Russia. Thus, the question of how and why great powers choose to interfere or intervene in civil conflicts is also again rising in importance.

The remainder of this article is divided into four sections. Firstly, it reviews the historical and legal discussions on the principles of non-interference and non-intervention and provides a working definition of these principles. Secondly, it provides insights as to how China's expanding economic power brought with it a problem of how to interpret the questions of non-interference and non-intervention. Thirdly, it offers a conceptual framework consisting of materialist, international status and domestic factors to analyse why and by what means China has become active in peacebuilding and conflict mediation. Finally, the articles and case studies of this special section will be prefaced.

Non-interference and non-intervention: what are they?

Despite the fact that non-interference and non-intervention remain central themes in international relations, very few studies to date have provided a clear, current definition of these principles, perhaps because defining the principles is not only a legal exercise but also a political one. Historical and legal analyses of the principles below show that the principles have been created and interpreted in a process of foreign policymaking of great powers. While the articles within this special section focus on today's examples of Chinese foreign policy which address these principles, including the realpolitik nature of the ways China deals with the principles today, these examples should be understood within an historically political nature of the principles.

From an historical viewpoint, the principle of non-interference is one of the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence,” which were derived from materialist and normative requirements for the CCP in the 1940s and the 1950s.Footnote 3 Materially, the CCP needed to pursue its development in the aftermath of civil conflict as well as Japanese and Western colonialism. Normatively, the Chinese communists wanted to challenge the US-dominated capitalist and liberal model of international relations.

Their usefulness was demonstrated by the Panchsheel (or “Five Virtues”) Agreement struck by China and India in April 1954, which codified the Five Principles in an official international document for the first time. The two countries found the Five Principles to be useful for issues other than bilateral relations and applied them to the Indochina conflicts. The Indian government publicly advocated the five principles in the Geneva Conference meetings of 1954.Footnote 4 For China, emphasizing the importance of the Five Principles was also a means to challenge US domination and to deter expansion of Soviet control over China. Lacking the military or economic means to match the expansion of two superpowers, China had to rely on the superiority of the Five Principles over those taken by superpower hegemonism. As Richardson argued, “the principles were China's way of trying to offer an alternative to a world of bipolarity, military alliances and dependent development.”Footnote 5 Such was the rationale of the watershed Bandung conference in April 1955,Footnote 6 and later of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which China joined as an observer upon its inception in 1961.Footnote 7

After the Sino-Soviet Split in the 1960s, however, the developing world took on even greater importance for the Five Principles as well as Maoist foreign policy, including economic development projects and support for leftist movements in Africa and Asia. Maoist foreign policy that supported the Five Principles contradictingly included activity that can be interpreted as an intervention in domestic affairs. For example, during the Cold War China supported independence movements and revolutionary activism in Algeria, Burma (now Myanmar), Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Malaysia, Nepal, Niger and Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania).Footnote 8

During the superpower détente era in the 1970s, the Five Principles offered diplomatic flexibility in normalizing China's relations with various states, firstly with the major states in the “developed capitalist” camp, including the US and Japan. The Principles allowed China to normalize diplomatic relations with those countries without agreeing with their capitalist policies,Footnote 9 permitting Beijing to maintain its firm commitment to its communist doctrine while being flexible in its diplomatic approach. This explains the mention of the Five Principles in two major documents in 1972: the Sino-American Shanghai Communiqué, and the Japan–China Joint Communiqué. The Principles were also useful in mending Chinese relations with developing states, such as Pakistan, in the wake of previous Chinese aims to export its revolutionary politics during the 1960s, which had damaged some of its bilateral relations. In stressing Beijing's commitment to the developing world, the Chinese representative to the United Nations, Qiao Guanhua, made a speech at the UN General Assembly in November 1971, underscoring the Five Principles as the basis of its approach.Footnote 10

From the time of Deng Xiaoping's “reform and opening up policies” (gaige kaifang 改革开放) of 1978 to shortly after China's “go abroad” (zouchuqu 走出去) strategy under Jiang Zemin took effect in the 1990s, and with many Chinese companies and citizens beginning to invest in developing regions at the turn of the century, the Five Principles remained a useful means by which to maintain relations with both the developed and developing regions while focusing on its economic development. China emphasized that the Five Principles demonstrated China's intent to seek “peaceful development” without seeking hegemonism, and not an attempt to change a political regime of developing countries. The discourse of “win-win relations” based on equality prevailed in China's diplomacy with much of the Global South, especially when China under Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping began to deepen its political and economic relations with Africa, the Middle East and other regions outside of the Asia-Pacific.

At the same time, China was also obliged to accept some ideas that seem to go beyond the Five Principles, in order to save some “image cost” on the international stage. The key example is the concept of “responsibility to protect” (R2P), which was conceived as a framework legitimizing the use of force against states to protect civilians.Footnote 11 While China's endorsement of the R2P concept at the UN seems to contradict the Five Principles, Beijing has sought to redefine the concept to better suit the Five Principles by distancing the R2P concept from military action taken without the consent of the host state.Footnote 12 Indeed, “the consent of the host state” has been the cornerstone of China's current approach to the principles of non-interference and non-intervention since the turn of the century, as the following articles demonstrate. Today, however, China's approach to the principles of non-interference and non-intervention sometimes goes even beyond the “consent of the host state,” particularly in a multilateral context. As Hirono discusses, there were some, albeit limited, occasions in which China's mediation efforts went without the consent of the host state (in this case, the Afghan government), when they were made via a multilateral channel.

In summary, Beijing has adhered to the Five Principles since its official inception in 1954, except for a short period during the Cultural Revolution, because they constantly served as essential and convenient means to support China's realpolitik in addition to economic considerations in its foreign and domestic policies. It is the task of this special section to examine how the principles of non-interference and non-intervention serve China's realpolitik in the current decade, how they were put into practice, and whether and how said principles concurrently set limits on China's diplomatic choices.

Turning to the legal dimensions, while it is important to recognize the concepts of non-interference and non-intervention as elements of such political tools as the Five Principles, a working definition of the concept is essential. This special section offers a wide definition of the term, not only military intervention but also recommendations, fact-finding missions, discussions and many “duties and rights” of a state as indicated in the UN Declaration in 1981. The articles to follow will attempt to investigate, in different contexts, the types of intervention and interference China is or is not engaging in and the reasons forming the interpretations and evolvement of Beijing's principles of non-interference and non-intervention. The principle of non-intervention is central to international law, which stipulates two different relationships: horizontal and vertical. The first relationship is a horizontal one between equal sovereign states.Footnote 13 Even though the reality of international relations is such that there are never “equal” relations among states with varying levels of power, the idea of sovereign equality has been the legal and normative basis of international relations since at least the eighteenth century.Footnote 14

Today, the principle of non-intervention based on sovereign equality remains a core component in China's “south–south” diplomacy, although some elements have evolved since the Maoist era. This special section seeks to illustrate how these changes in thinking have manifested themselves, including in the case of ongoing conflicts and war-to-peace transitions. The claim that China takes seriously the sovereign equality among all states, regardless of varying levels of economic wealth and political stability, is still a foundation of its diplomacy with developing regions even though China has moved well away from its era of “national humiliation” (guochi 国耻) which Chinese narratives have claimed was the dominant zeitgeist in the decades before the founding of the People's Republic. China's self-proclamation that it was a developing country – with its harsh experiences of colonization and unequal treaties during the Qing and Republican periods – in the years before the start of the Xi administration adds to China's claims of a special understanding of the sanctity of state sovereignty. However, as the following articles demonstrate, Beijing's changing views on intervention have also meant an adjustment to the responsibilities of this new thinking.

Sovereignty has been described in the past as “organized hypocrisy,” with the principles of non-intervention with the idea of sovereign equality having “already been violated.”Footnote 15 Beijing's increasing political and economic power indicates there are very few who claim that the sovereignty of China and that of developing states remains in a state of parity, a perception which has been examined in the case studies outlined in this special section, and the horizontal sense of the principle of non-intervention may be nothing more than words on paper. Now that China is widely acknowledged as a great power, and given the long history of great power behaviour of other states, there is scepticism as to Beijing's ability to adhere to its traditional, Cold-War era views on sovereignty as its power and international interests grow in scope. To examine this claim empirically, it is necessary to develop a clearer understanding of the principle of non-intervention.

The second relationship is a vertical one, “between an international organization and its Member States, regulating the exercise of jurisdictional authority by the international organization and, at the same time, protecting the jurisdictional autonomy of its Member States.”Footnote 16 This association is an important one because its roles and behaviour in conflict-affected regions often relate to China's role as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, or as a major UN peacekeeping (UNPKO) contributor, which will be examined more fully in Lanteigne's article. This, again, leads to the question of “jurisdictional authority.” In the age of globalization, the state border becomes porous in relation not only to economic and social realms but also to the security realm. Globalization brought about a situation in which traditional and state-to-state security is no longer sufficient to protect people's security. Non-traditional and human security threats, such as food shortages, environmental degradation, and transnational crimes such as human trafficking, ignore state borders and permeate various states. Differentiating the domestic from the international in the understanding of security threats is a complex task, further complicating the issue of defining the principle of non-intervention.

What is “intervention”? Among the key official documents that provide the international legal basis for the term is Paragraph Four, Article 2 of the UN Charter, which states “all Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”Footnote 17 However, the Charter does not provide a clear understanding of what constitutes intervention, resulting in many cases of selective interpretation, including by great powers. Analysts and international legal experts provided wide-ranging interpretations. In 1950, Sir Hersch Lauterpach, later a judge in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), adapted a narrow definition stating that intervention is “dictatorial interference in the sense of action amounting to a denial of the independence of the State.”Footnote 18

This description prompts a discussion about the difference between intervention and interference. Lauterpach does not explain what being “dictatorial” means, but he states elsewhere that “therefore intervention must neither be confused with good offices, nor with mediation, nor with intercession, nor with cooperation, because none of these imply dictatorial interference.”Footnote 19 Bloyd and van Dijk inferred from this statement that Lauterpach's take seems to be that intervention, or dictatorial interference, is of a coercive nature.Footnote 20 In other words, while the interference “takes place against the will of the country in question,” the intervention is associated with “the actual coercion or pressure involved.”Footnote 21 In contrast, other commentators suggested that “recommendation, fact-finding missions, and even discussion would constitute an intervention.”Footnote 22

To address the ambiguity of the term, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the “Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Internal Affairs of States, A/RES/36/103” (9 December 1981, hereafter “the Declaration”).Footnote 23 The Declaration points to several specific state rights and duties to protect the “principle” of non-interference and non-intervention – note the singular use of the term “principle.” This document refers to intervention and interference in one category, without making any distinction between the two. Following are a few examples demonstrating the width of the UNGA's interpretation of the acts from which all states should refrain, to protect the principle of non-interference and non-intervention:

II (a.) “The duty of States to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any form whatsoever to violate the existing internationally recognized boundaries of another State, to disrupt the political, social or economic order of other States, [or] to overthrow or change the political system of another State or its Government.”

II (i.) “The duty of States to refrain from any measure which would lead to the strengthening of existing military blocks or the creation or strengthening of new military alliances, interlocking arrangements, the deployment of interventionist forces or military bases and other related military installations conceived in the context of great-Power confrontation.”

II (o.) “The duty of a State to refrain from any economic, political or military activity in the territory of another State without its consent.”

This wide definition is particularly favoured by developing state governments, most of which, including China, voted in favour of the Declaration, while many Western governments voted against it, including the United States.Footnote 24 For China, the necessity to protect regime security led them to accept this interpretation of the “principle” of non-intervention and non-interference. China's subsequent practices of non-intervention and non-interference went so far as to refrain from criticizing the actions of other members of the Global South towards their own peoples, even those involving systematic suppression of human rights.

In the context of such a wide definition of the principles of non-interference and non-intervention by the UN, the interpretation of the principle cannot remain purely in the realm of international law. Interpretation is a political act, and as previously discussed, these principles serve as a political tool for states. The way in which a state uses such tools as a result depends on the power relations between those who use the political tools and those who intervene or who are interfered with.

Non-interference and non-intervention: why do they matter now?

As the forthcoming articles suggest, Beijing's approaches to the principles of non-interference and non-intervention relate to our understanding of China's international relations, especially as the country continues to rise as a great power, raising the possibility of a power transition with the United States. This is firstly because they demonstrate the impact of the country's increasing economic activity outside of its territory on its approaches to international politics, and secondly because they also reveal a vignette of the relationship between China and the global liberal order. Since the 1970s, Chinese foreign policy has often sought to create comfortable distances between political and business interests in countries, such as those in Africa and the Middle East where Beijing has commercial investments, especially in essential resources such as fossil fuels, and to avoid intra-state conflicts. Beijing no longer has the luxury of those options, however, as the country completes its transition from medium to great power status.

Moreover, the safety of its expanding overseas assets and numbers of citizens is increasingly threatened by local political disturbances, and the Chinese government and citizenry now pays more attention to its international reputation as a means by which to enhance the image of a responsible great power and a country that seeks to rise and develop peacefully. China's recognition of its entangled economic and political interests overseas has resulted in two “inconvenient truths,” namely that China is sometimes forced to intervene in intra-state conflicts to protect its citizens and commercial interests, and that Beijing is becoming more resourceful, knowledgeable and adept at using economic instruments to facilitate its diplomatic efforts to resolve conflicts.

China is sometimes forced to use political and military means to protect, and sometimes evacuate, its citizens and commercial assets abroad as more of its economy becomes globalized and greater numbers of Chinese workers seek overseas opportunities, including in regions in which security is not a given. Since the start of its “reform and opening up policies” of the late 1970s, China has pursued a pragmatic foreign economic policy. Regardless of other countries’ ideological inclinations or political situations, China encourages them to be open to its exports and investments; it cultivates economic interdependence for diplomatic gains, and diplomatic relations for commercial gains. The 21st century has seen a drastic expansion of Chinese overseas investment, encouraged and supported by the state to varying degrees. In developing countries, China has invested widely in energy and natural resources projects and related infrastructure such as oil and gas pipelines and railways. A key part of the BRI is building a growing array of communications and transportation infrastructure across Africa, Europe, Eurasia, and South and Southwest Asia.

China's expanding international economic engagement is accompanied by a growing presence of overseas Chinese citizens and assets, and the state is obliged to protect them when they are threatened by political or security turmoil. That is not only because overseas economic interests are crucial to the health of the Chinese economy, hence to the legitimacy of the communist regime, but also because the state has faced domestic criticism when it was viewed as failing to protect its assets and especially citizens, including workers, officials, business people and peacekeepers.Footnote 25 As Beijing continues to engage developing regions, including in unstable areas, public concerns about the safety of Chinese citizens abroad are becoming more prevalent, as the article by Marc Lanteigne explores in the case of Mali peacekeeping. Thus, it can be argued that the current legitimacy of the Chinese communist regime comes not only from maintaining domestic economic growth, but also from the image of a respected “responsible great power,” able to protect its interests in the international sphere. As will be explored in the following articles, China's legitimacy on an international level is being tied to its activities in civil conflicts and areas of problematic security.

China has learned from crises, including the current conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, South Sudan and Yemen, that it can no longer remain aloof from intra-state conflicts, even those which affect areas where Beijing has no direct economic interests (see Lanteigne's article). It has changed its foreign policy from non-interference to active mediation, supporting UN sanctions, and contributing to UNPKO missions. While Beijing was initially surprised by the post-2010 “Arab Spring” revolutions, China intervened to safeguard thousands of its citizens and its growing commercial interests (especially oil facilities) in North Africa and the Middle East. Protecting regional stability, particularly in energy-rich Middle East countries, through international collaboration is written into China's 2012 White Paper on Energy Policy.Footnote 26 In Africa as a whole, China's growing commercial (and diplomatic) interests have provided a strong impetus for Beijing to take on a more activist role in promoting peace and development on the continent.

China has also learned from intra-state conflicts that it requires stable environments for investments and overseas citizens, and that it is time to build up longer-term strategic relationships. Under the Hu and Xi governments, Beijing began to develop infrastructure and diplomatic ties along vital sea lanes emanating from the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean to the Middle East and Africa to better protect China's energy and trading interests while developing new economic prospects, with many of these interests later folded into the BRI. To ensure the safety of its maritime trade routes, Beijing has sought to secure commercial ownership over strategic trading ports, and in some cases, such as Gwadar (Pakistan), Hambantota (Sri Lanka), and Sittwe and Maday Island (Myanmar), developing ports for potential strategic use as well as BRI nodal points. In August 2017, China formally opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti, with a statement stressing the role of these facilities as a supply depot and a coordination hub for humanitarian missions in Africa and West Asia.Footnote 27

Moreover, in contrast to its traditional approaches of dealing with the incumbent government or with only one side in a conflict situation, China has also learned not to “put all its eggs in one basket” and instead to engage with multiple parties in a political or security conflict. It is not only because China would like to facilitate the creation of a stable political environment for its citizens and assets, but also due to the requirement to hedge against uncertainties brought about by regime change in host countries, and occasionally to recognize that certain regions in a country are under de facto control by opposition forces. For example, in Myanmar, the Xi government broke with longstanding tradition and initiated dialogue with the then-opposition National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi before the watershed November 2015 elections which brought her party to power.Footnote 28

In Afghanistan, as Miwa Hirono's article details, the Chinese government has made consistent efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table with the Afghani government since 2014, and managed to do so on two occasions, leading to successful joint discussions in 2016. As Imad Mansour's article notes, in the Gulf Region, China has adopted a more balanced position between its old friend Iran and pro-US countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), including Saudi Arabia, and has tried to walk a fine diplomatic line when relations were severed between Qatar and other major GCC governments in mid-2017. Further, China pressed rival factions to enter talks in the cases of Darfur in 2007 and South Sudan since late 2013. However, in each of these cases as well as in others, Beijing was also required to accumulate greater knowledge, and at times intelligence, of a particular security situation to better understand sub-state conditions and more effectively craft policy responses.

For example, when tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia accelerated in January 2016, China dispatched an envoy to the two countries for mediation and called on both to exercise restraint in their diplomatic clash.Footnote 29 In Afghanistan, as Hirono's article explains, Beijing has been one of the major actors, working closely with the US, in trying to bring about a political settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government. That is not only because China fears Afghanistan becoming a safe haven for Uyghur militants, but also because Chinese-invested mines, such as the copper mining facilities at Mes Aynak and the nascent US$62 billion China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), are under potential threat from Taliban and other extremist interests. In the case of Syria, China has largely remained out of the conflict, but Beijing hosted Syrian government and opposition figures separately in late 2015 and early 2016 in an effort to accelerate peace negotiations in the hope of distinguishing it from the West and Russia as a helpful partner in peacebuilding.Footnote 30

Secondly, with its growing economic power, China has more economic tools at its disposal to be effective in conflict mediation, peacekeeping and diplomatic negotiations, and consequently the country is becoming increasingly adept at such roles as well, using both carrot and stick, or both incentives and sanctions. In other words, China has greatly developed its “commercial diplomacy,” meaning the ability to make its economic power more fungible, and to translate said power into other forms, including for strategic purposes.Footnote 31 Beijing is using many resources for economic diplomacy, including aid, contributions to global or regional institutions, loans issued by policy banks, overseas investment by state-owned enterprises, and Beijing-backed financial regimes such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the New Development Bank. This is evidenced in its diplomacy in conflict-affected regions as well. Globally, China had been the third-largest contributor to UN peacekeeping budgets, becoming the second-largest in 2016.

Regionally, Beijing has sponsored conflict response mechanisms, including grants for an international monitoring mechanism to record ceasefire violations in South Sudan in 2014 and the African Standby Force and the African Capacity for the Immediate Response to Crises in 2015. Bilaterally, China convinced the government of conflict-ridden South Sudan in 2014 to permit the UN to relocate a camp of 15,000 displaced victims of one of the fighting ethnic groups, by having one of its major SOEs construct a new camp.Footnote 32 During Iran's long nuclear impasse with the West, Beijing reportedly instructed its SOEs to slow down energy investments in the country between 2010 and 2013 in an effort to pressure Tehran to abandon its nuclear weapons programme and to engage in the “P5 + 1” nuclear talks, while avoiding the risks of both US sanctions and instability in Iran (see Mansour's article in this special section).

With the expanding reach of China's Belt and Road, the country's pledge to help other countries build infrastructure, or the invitation to join organizations such as the AIIB, are very attractive options, as the Bank only lends to member states, and the promise of further infrastructure in the developing world has entered into the calculation of some countries when they engage with China. Questions about the long-term political and economic health of both the US and the European Union, as well as overall concerns about the future of economic globalization, may serve to further heighten China's visibility.

China's more interventionist foreign policy also has implications for its place in the global liberal order. In the post-Cold War period, an international milieu open to intervention and/or interference has evolved. The flourishing of the global liberal order is predicated on the assumption that every state subscribes to at least the following three major features, each of which assumes the existence of a political system allowing the free movement of goods, services and ideas among states. If states do not subscribe to these features, intervention and/or interference might arise in order to ensure the maintenance of global stability.Footnote 33 The first feature is the idea of free trade, as codified in the Bretton Woods system, in which governments in the “first world” assume the right to decide matters related to the domestic politics of the “third world.”Footnote 34 The second involves “ideas about political freedom and representative democracy,” implying “the free movement of ideas,” and which supports the first feature's ideas about free trade.Footnote 35 The third feature is an increasing number of intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations around the world, each seeming to interfere in the “domestic affairs” of various states.

Where does China fit in this global discussion? If Beijing is more frequently taking on an “interventionist” approach, this can mean that China is socializing into the global liberal order. China's increasing and deepening participation in UN peacekeeping, in terms of greater troop contributions, which now include combat forces, seems to signify such a tendency. However, China's policy behaviour in civil conflicts, Beijing's increasing roles in international mediation, and increasing economic activity in conflict-prone regions, suggest that the interventionist approach which China is taking seems to be somewhat different from Western practices. Is Beijing trying to establish something new, or does the difference simply derive from different historical experiences? Does the Xi government now have a systematic policy towards the principles of non-interference and non-intervention?

Conceptual framework: why and how China has become active in peacebuilding and conflict mediation

These questions can be addressed by using conceptual framework consisting of three frames: materialist, normative, and domestic frames. From a materialist frame, China as a rising power needs to protect two major sets of assets in conflict-affected regions today, and China's active participation in peacebuilding initiatives and conflict mediation can be explained by the need to protect the two assets. First, Chinese citizens, especially in the wake of “go abroad” strategies since the turn of the century that have encouraged growing numbers of out-migration, have required protection. There has been an increasing number of cases in which Chinese citizens abroad have been directly threatened by conflict, with one notable example being the rushed evacuation of over 36,000 Chinese workers and nationals from Libya in March 2011 as the country began its descent into civil war. Chinese naval vessels provided cover for the removal of approximately six hundred Chinese citizens from Yemen in March 2015, as well as more than two hundred foreign nationals, when fighting erupted there, an event paid homage to in the popular 2018 Chinese combat film Operation Red Sea (Honghai Xingdong 红海行动).Footnote 36

Secondly, China's growing economic power has meant that the assets it oversees abroad have also grown both in terms of value and importance to its economy, and this includes energy and natural resource projects, the development of new infrastructure, including ports, roads, railways and pipelines, as well as factories and trade routes that will also require protection. Furthermore, with its significant economic power, China possesses an array of financial instruments for diplomatic objectives, including contributing both money and resources to peacekeeping missions and facilitating conflict mediation and peace negotiations.

From a normative standpoint, China's concern for its international status is a point of enquiry. China is no longer a medium power, which means the country cannot rely on its previous (self-proclaimed) status as a “large developing state” as it conducts its international affairs, including in the strategic realm. As a great power, ready or not, China is now expected by the international community, and particularly by conflict-affected regions, to become a “responsible great power”Footnote 37 by being more active in conflict-affected regions, rather than assuming an attitude of indifference. However, what is the composition of a responsible great power? China's emerging approaches towards interventions present a useful window from which to examine these inquiries.

In the areas of intervention, is Beijing a norm-maker or norm-taker? At present, China continues to be accepting of many international norms regarding security issues, but the country also appears to be more comfortable in proposing alternatives to Western norms. In addition, Beijing also emphasizes the importance of development in resolving intra-state conflict. Furthermore, Chinese interpretations of sovereignty have been changing from a very strict understanding of Westphalian principles to a more flexible approach, but does that necessarily mean China is becoming a state like the West, or a “normal great power”? Finally, to what extent has China learned from its recent experiences (positive and negative) in conflict-affected regions, such as building a more conflict-sensitive approach? As China's international exposure to conflict areas deepens, standard operating procedures are starting to appear, and they too are now worthy of study when one examines the country's approach to intervention. If a great power experiences similar challenges in conflict-affected regions, do China's experience, and lessons learned, lead the country along the same paths of those experienced in the West? As an alternative, will China's historical identity – and past familiarity with itself being subject to colonialism – mean that the country's approaches to conflict-affected regions are quite different from those of the West, as China claims?

A domestic framework, which is often forgotten in international relations debates that tend to focus on international material and normative structures, is also useful in explaining the ways in which China varies its approach to conflict-affected areas. Chinese citizens, both within the country and abroad, have expressed significant concerns about the safety of Chinese overseas nationals, having witnessed in recent years kidnappings and the deaths of workers and professionals abroad. These concerns have also grown with China's increased participation in UN peacekeeping missions, as Lanteigne notes in the article examining the evolution of China's peacekeeping contributions in Mali. In the space of less than twenty years, Chinese policy towards UNPKO was transformed from wariness and avoidance to acceptance and enthusiasm. However, the increased numbers of blue berets, and more frequently policies and combat forces, have placed Chinese personnel in harm's way, with Chinese peacekeepers having been killed during operations in Haïti, Mali and South Sudan.

Apprehension about the safety of Chinese citizens might lead to the country's deeper engagement in various forms of conflict resolution, including in regions beyond the Asia-Pacific, but at the same time it can also promote a more cautious approach to interventions within conflicts, given international concerns about revisionist Chinese security policies and its growing defence budget (estimated at US$175 billion in 2018).Footnote 38 For example, although Beijing had stressed repeatedly that the Belt and Road is an economic endeavour, the strategic dimensions of the initiative, as well as the fact that it covers key areas of resource interest (Africa, Eurasia, the Indian Ocean and the Arctic) is significant. A comprehensive understanding of risks, including political, economic and cultural, is emerging in the domestic discussions as well as in the halls of power in Beijing. Chinese citizens have another expectation, namely that the country will play a larger role in international affairs, appropriate to the size of its economy, as potentially part of a “Chinese Dream” (Zhongguo meng 中国梦), which Xi elucidated shortly after taking office. Thus, a more activist approach to intervention may also be interpreted as a means to enable Beijing's increased participation on the world stage, in keeping with the country's great power status and its potential emergence as a global power.

The structure of the special section

The articles in this special section address one or more of the overarching questions stated above, including the meaning of the principles of non-interference and non-intervention to China today; the reasons for and the process of China's shifting approaches to the principles; the implication of the shifting approaches for China's position in the global liberal order; and how the developing world perceives Beijing's shifting approaches to the principles of non-interference and non-intervention. Under the heading of “the search for legitimate great power intervention,” Sørensen's article examines the domestic debate within China on how Beijing can protect and promote Chinese global presence and interests while at the same time continue to “stay within” the principle of non-intervention. It will show how new distinctions, particularly the distinction between “intervention” and “interference,” and approaches are developing and will discuss how these new distinctions and approaches are reflected in the Chinese foreign and security policy practice, which has become much more flexible and pragmatic. This relates to how an authoritative new policy on the principle of non-intervention has yet to emerge from Beijing, making it possible for the different Chinese foreign policy actors to pursue several new initiatives and approaches simultaneously.

This is followed by a case study by Hirono, analysing China's practices of the principle of non-interference, with particular attention devoted to the country's conflict mediation efforts in Afghanistan from 2014 to date. Conflict mediation involves direct engagement with rebels such as the Taliban, which is a clear departure from the country's rhetoric and most of its past practices, which focused on the government-to-government interaction. This article establishes an analytical framework that helps to assess the relationship between the types of approaches to mediation and the level of interference each implies, and assesses the nature of China's mediation by using the framework. It argues that China's mediation effort in a bilateral context is compatible with the principle of non-interference, while in a multilateral channel it shows a medium level of interference in domestic affairs.

Lanteigne examines Chinese conduct within the framework of UN peacekeeping and war–to–peace transitions in Chinese contributions to securing a peace in Mali since conflict broke out in 2012. Beijing's decision to support international intervention in Mali, in order to rescue the state from imminent collapse and vulnerability to extremist and terrorist organizations, including the Islamic State, was also a departure from previous policies of targeting peacekeeping engagements, especially in Africa, in accordance with resource and economic interests. However, the complexity of the Malian conflict, and the ongoing problems in securing a lasting ceasefire, have meant that the Mali mission has become a crucial test for China's ongoing support for UNPKO initiatives.

The Middle East is the arena for the final article because this region has become crucial for much of Chinese foreign policy, not least as a source of fossil fuels and as a crucial component of the BRI. Mansour's article analyses changing Chinese strategies in the Gulf (with a focus on the past decade) and demonstrates how the Gulf states’ expectation of China fits with China's shifting approach to intervention to this unstable region. The author argues that Gulf state expectations are powerful explanations for China's regional strategies that have shown growing adaptability in an unstable regional order; these expectations emerge around issues that implicate Gulf states directly or are relevant to them, such as relations with the US, and the wars in Yemen and Syria. China's approach to the Gulf demonstrates that it has been incrementally integrating local demands in its strategizing, especially by finding common ground with Gulf states despite their own differences; China has done so while not being tied to a “hegemonic idea,” i.e. it is not trying to control or define Gulf politics. The article finds that Beijing's incrementalist, adaptive, and non-hegemonic regional approach has significantly increased Gulf states’ acceptance of its interventions. In describing multifaceted intervention processes in China's Gulf policy, Mansour's article argues that intervention is best understood as a continuum, where economic intervention can have crucial political and security consequences just as military intervention has economic dimensions.

Acknowledgements

An initial version of this article was presented at an international symposium “China's New Roles and Behaviours in Conflict-Affected Regions: Evolving Approaches to the Principle of Non-Interference” in Kyoto, in December 2016. The latter event was funded and organized by the Institute of International Relations and Asian Studies at Ritsumeikan University, to which we would like to express our special thanks. We are also grateful to panellists, discussants and the audience at the event, and to Lars Erslev Andersen, Kyoto Cross and Ryan Manuel for their useful comments. The authors are also grateful for the support of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science KAKENHI in the form of a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (C), grant number 17K03606.

Biographical notes

Miwa HIRONO is an associate professor at the College of International Relations at Ritsumeikan University in Japan. Her research focuses on China's engagement in conflict-/disaster-affected regions, with particular attention paid to peacekeeping, peacebuilding, humanitarian assistance, overseas development aid and investment, and conflict mediation. She is the author of Civilizing Missions: International Religious Agencies in China (2008) and “Linkages between China's Foreign Policy and Humanitarian Action” (2018), and a co-editor of China's Evolving Approach to Peacekeeping (2012) and Cultures of Humanitarianism: Perspectives from Asia-Pacific (2012).

Yang JIANG is a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies. She does research on contemporary political economy of China, with a focus on the linkage between domestic reform and foreign policy. She has published in Review of International Political Economy, The Pacific Review, Journal of Contemporary China, amongst others, and authored China's Policymaking for Regional Economic Cooperation (2013).

Marc LANTEIGNE is an associate professor in the department of sociology, political science and community planning at University of Tromsø – The Arctic University of Norway. His research interests include Chinese and East Asian foreign policy, China's engagement and cooperation with regional and international organizations, cross-regional diplomacy, Arctic and Antarctic politics and security, Sino-European relations, and non-traditional security in Asia. He is the author of China and International Institutions: Alternate Paths to Global Power (2005) and Chinese Foreign Policy: An Introduction (2015), as well as numerous articles on China and East Asia politics.

Footnotes

1 Huang Reference Huang2016, 314–321.

2 Lanteigne Reference Lanteigne2013, 10.

3 Five principles consist of (1) mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty; (2) mutual non-aggression; (3) mutual non-interference in each other's internal affairs; (4) equality and mutual benefit; and (5) peaceful coexistence.

4 Richardson Reference Richardson2010, 13.

6 Footnote Ibid., 13–14.

7 China had only observer status in the NAM because its 1950 Sino-Soviet Mutual Treaty precluded it from membership of the Movement, which stipulated that its members not have an alliance with a major state.

9 Richardson Reference Richardson2010, 16–17.

10 “Qiao Guanhua lianheguo dahui di ershiliu jie huiyi quanti huiyi shang de fayan” (Qiao Guanhua's speech at the 26th United Nations General Assembly plenary session), Renmin Ribao, 17 November 1971.

13 Nasu Reference Nasu2013, 27–31.

14 Stirk Reference Stirk2012, 647.

15 Krasner Reference Krasner1999, 24.

16 Nasu Reference Nasu2013, 27–28.

17 The United Nations 1945. In the UN Charter, the terms “non-intervention” and “non-interference” are not used. The only closest reference to those terms is in Paragraph Seven, Article 2: “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII.”

18 Lauterpacht; cited in Nasu Reference Nasu2013, 29.

19 Lauterpacht; cited in Bloed and van Dijk Reference Bloed, Van Dijk, Bloed and Van Dijk1985, 61.

22 Wright; cited in Nasu Reference Nasu2013, 29–30.

23 The United Nations General Assembly 1981a.

24 The draft resolution was adopted by 120 votes to 22, with six abstentions. See The United Nations General Assembly 1981b.

25 Wong Reference Wong2013; Parello-Plesner and Duchâtel Reference Parello-Plesner and Duchâtel2015.

26 Information Office of the State Council 2012.

33 Evans and Newnham Reference Evans and Newnham1998, 279–280.

35 Evans and Newnham Reference Evans and Newnham1998, 279–280.

36 Rajagopalan and Blanchard Reference Rajagopalan and Blanchard2015.

37 Cui and Buzan Reference Cui and Buzan2017.

38 Shepherd and Martina Reference Shepherd and Martina2018.

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