China’s Doctrine of Indifference
Image Credit: Flickr / daren_ck

China’s Doctrine of Indifference

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The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence have underpinned Chinese diplomacy for more than 50 years. And, although originally conceived with India and Burma in mind, they have allowed Beijing to actively and continuously engage some of the most suspect regimes under the politically laudable but morally dubious guise of a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy that can see an ally commit what many describe as genocide even as Chinese companies explore oil fields only a few miles away.

The Five Principles send a message to potential allies and enemies alike: this is how we do business; this is how we expect you to do your business with us. It serves to reassure potential friends of non-hostile intentions by letting them know that their sovereignty and territory will be respected, and that China expects precisely the same in return.

Which is why it was so surprising to observers when the Chinese government announced that it would receive envoys from the anti-government rebels currently fighting in Libya. China has traditionally only engaged with the legitimately recognized government of other states on political issues, so why the sudden change?

Interventionists like to see this as a vindication and a strong indicator that the balance of power is shifting in the Libyan conflict. China, in holding talks with the rebels, is practically acknowledging the inevitability of the downfall of the Gaddafi regime. This engagement is a sign that Beijing wishes to ensure they are backing the right horse. For the powers of NATO, China's volte-face is proof that their strategy is working.

But does China really know which way the wind is blowing? More importantly, why do they care? After all, the Five Principles counsel non-involvement in other's affairs and a change now would set a dangerous precedent for future diplomatic engagement. At the very least, China will no longer be able to claim the moral high ground when the Dalai Lama visits Washington, and would only have limited cause for complaint when ‘anti-harmony elements’ such as Liu Xiaobo are recognized for their contribution to dissent in the Middle Kingdom. After all, speaking directly with a force that’s openly challenging the rule of the acknowledged government is tantamount to legitimizing the rebel's cause.

And this is something that Beijing can’t afford if it is to keep its reputation as a non-interventionist power intact. The Communist Party will be well aware of the fact that two of its most significant allies, Iran and Burma, are both international pariahs that face constant challenges to their authority from within. Were China to change tack and take a more humanitarian stance, it would fundamentally threaten the supplies of Iranian oil (approximately 15 percent of China's annual imports) and the gas pipeline through Burma that feeds them so much of their energy. On the other hand, both powers lack other allies with the same economic clout, and are acutely aware of the necessity of keeping Beijing happy, regardless of a change in philosophy.

Comments
8
Digvijay
July 7, 2011 at 03:07

“If India agreed that China is not part of the Kashmir disputes, China will stay out of fight for sure.”
you really dont know anything about politics dont you? India has consistently maintained that Kashmir is a bilateral issue and always treats it so. It does not allow any 3rd party intervention in Kashmir and has many times rejected US’s offer of intervention. the fact is that China is a hegemony in Asia and wants to dominate all its neighbours!
Hypothetically if India does agree that Kashmir is not a bilateral issue then waging a war with another nation is a really good option right?!?! the fact is that China attacked a helpless 15 year old India no proper army and massacred hundreds of innocent Indian soldiers for its own political ambitions!

Sinodefender
June 26, 2011 at 17:07

Even though I don’t really care about the communist regime I’m proud for my people unlike the West to stick their noses into everything.

guest
June 23, 2011 at 20:53

>Doctrine of Indifference

Sounds good. Anybody remember the foreign policy doctrine of the Founding Fathers?

Matthew
June 22, 2011 at 20:48

“tantamount to legitimizing the rebel’s cause.”

As there are many rebels in Libya, the apostrophe should be after the ‘s’, not before.

Frank
June 22, 2011 at 00:52

If India agreed that China is not part of the Kashmir disputes, China will stay out of fight for sure.

That is called Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.

In Chairman Mao’s words:

If you do not mess with us, we will not mess with you. If you mess with us, we HAVE to mess with you.

Frank
June 22, 2011 at 00:49

The reason that China stepped into Kashmir disputes is because India insisted that China is hold a part of Kashmir. Aksai Chin is a peace of land without a trace of life. India lost 500 man for that piece of land only because an Englishman pissed there.

India is paying dearly for the left over land there. They have to fly in the supplies in winter.

Girish
June 21, 2011 at 22:57

China had been keeping itself out of Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan and had always considered Kashmir a bilateral issue.
But last year, it was a surprise when China all of sudden started issues stapled visa to Indians from Kashmir who want to visit China. The reason they gave that, they belongs to disputed state so..
Also they refused to issue visa to a general (serving in Kashmir) who was planned to visit China for bilateral military level exchanges. This ended up with India stopping military exchanges with China and a strong protest.

This year onwards, China has silently started issue proper visa to people from Kashmir and also allowed a general (who also had served Kashmir region) to take part in recently restored military exchange between the two countries,

I believe China is going through a policy change weather to interfere in others countries internal issues or not.!! In Kashmir case, they tried so (may be to please Pakistan) but retreated later.

Dalaii lammaa
June 21, 2011 at 21:19

Big deal, Israel is bulldozing Palestinians and their neighborhood. Still an ally

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