Since the 1950s, China has effectively used the doctrine of non-interference to guide its foreign policy agenda in the developing world. In its recent economic and diplomatic engagements in Africa, the policy has come under intense scrutiny and censure as Beijing attempts to strategically navigate the contours of resource acquisition alongside south-south solidarity with its African counterparts. The West has persistently criticized China for allegedly using non-interference opportunistically to ensure an uninterrupted flow of vital resources and to continue arms sales to rogue regimes in Sudan and Zimbabwe. With a recent wave of Chinese deportations from some African countries and the spotting of Chinese disaffection among sections of African populations, will Beijing respond by stepping up the rhetoric on non-interference or de-emphasizing this as foreign policy platform in Africa?
The policy of non-interference embedded in the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence largely precludes Chinese leaders from intervening in the internal affairs of another country. This respect for the sanctity of sovereignty has been used by Beijing as a pivot for its international political actions or inactions, which often call for tough and tricky choices within the international community. From the abstention from UN Security Council Resolution 1973 which gave the green light for the “no-fly zone” that ended Gaddafi’s rule in Libya, to its almost inert role in Sudan, China has been careful (sometimes too careful) with its colossal diplomatic footprint in Africa.
Fortunately for Beijing, the past decade has been a relative honeymoon as African leaders have grown impatient with Washington’s neoliberal agenda, leading them to readily embrace another option – a promise of economic growth with limited to no political preconditions. Undoubtedly, the policy of non-interference is more popularly among the leadership than the ordinary citizens as the policy does not force leaders to accept democratic standards in order to partner with China. Yet, in recent months China has seen a rise in its deportations from the continent, as well as rising anti-Chinese sentiment among certain segments of African populations. In light of this, Chinese leaders may need to assess whether Beijing is already too deeply domestically involved in Africa to continue its non-interference policy, or, conversely, if this policy should be continued in an effort to avoid being labeled as a “colonializer” and “resource exploiter.”