Honors Thesis Spotlight: China’s Evolving Non-Interference Policy and Expanding Role in Conflict Mediation Abroad

         In 1954, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) announced a policy of non-interference after the “Century of Humiliation”  that was inflicted on China from 1842 to 1949 by other foreign powers. This policy was proposed in the form of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence:  the mutual respect for other territories, the absence of aggression, no interference in internal affairs, peaceful co-existence, and mutual benefit and equality. The CCP desired to ensure to partners and other small countries near them that the People’s Republic of China did not intend to interfere in their internal affairs. This policy was groundbreaking because of the contrast to other nations like the U.S and the U.S.S.R who were more assertive, and it expected the West to treat China with respect. While this policy still exists and public officials reaffirm their dedication to this policy, China, however, has become at odds with this policy by becoming active and assertive in other affairs.

         China has been testing “engagement in domestic conflicts beyond its borders,” (4) throughout the 2000s. A notable example was in 2008 when China tried to improve its global image and status before the Beijing Olympics. This instance exemplifies what is known as the international charm offensive. As Chinese companies expand offices into other countries, there is more motivation to protect these investments. Most of these projects are in developing countries where the internal conflict weakens the government’s ability to protect the ambitions of Chinese businesses.

         The abroad investments started around 1999 when the CCP announced the Going Global Strategy. This plan motivated Chinese companies to invest abroad by opening offices. The main reason behind this strategy was to increase its global image and build domestic support so that China would be rebranded as a global leader. Much of this strategy was aimed at developing countries that Western investors avoided. However, a problem arose when Chinese workers were being threatened, killed, and/or kidnapped, which sparked public outrage in China. An intense pressure arose on the Chinese government to use its soft power to protect its citizens in foreign areas. One such instance was in Libya where the Chinese government enacted an evacuation of 36,000 individuals because of an impending civil war. This event set an expectation of the government to rescue its citizens and “showcased the dramatic increase in its capability to swiftly project power to protect its interests abroad,” (9).

         Despite setbacks with some countries, China still desired to expand its foreign influence; thus, the Harmonious Intervention model was proposed by Chiung-chiu Huang and Chih-yu Shih. This model sought to have China strive for stable, long-term relationships rather than short-term gains. The authors of this model reference two instances where China ceded land to North Korea and declined to be involved in Myanmar’s sovereign territory to exhibit China as a kindly power among other nations. This model would be restrained in policy, but promote the  continuation of China’s historic non-interference strategy.

         Other scholars advocate for a more proactive model like Constructive Interference. This strategy proposes that the Chinese government accept a form of intervention that is in line with other great powers. The Chinese government would have the flexibility to get involved with “grey-area conflicts where explicit host government consent is not necessarily clear,” (20). Zhao Huasheng, the author of this strategy, found that this idea would allow China to be within the boundaries of international law while also following the principle of the non-interference policy. He justifies this policy, even though it changes some of the non-interference policies by being more assertive, by reasoning that China has a responsibility to prevent crises, mediate, and continue the respect of sovereignty while obtaining global stability.

         While other policies have been proposed, China is still adamant about its non-interference policy despite the possibility of its methods creating a disparity within the boundaries of the policy. The Chinese government has violated the sovereignty of the host government through bilateral meetings with rebel groups, prioritizing Chinese security and economic interest above humanitarian interest, and utilizing their economic interest to pressure factions to decide on specific actions (50). Hearing proposes a solution to Chinese involvement in conflict zones. He claims that adding China into negotiations will bring a party to mediate that has power and leverage. This strategy would include a Western mediator to cause China to provide development and humanitarian assistance (52). This might cause China to be held accountable for some of the damages that affect these conflict nations. Overall, Hearing believes that because both Western and Chinese efforts have not been wholly successful in conflict zones, they should try to work together when dealing with internal affairs.       

Nicholas Hearing is a graduate of the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University. This post was based on Nich’s honors thesis, written by COSSPP Blog Intern, Lindsey Anderson.

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