Recognizing South Sudan.
By Chria Zambelis, China Brief, Vol. 11, Iss. 15, Aug 12, 2011 — Observers of politics in the Arab world and the broader Middle East continue to scrutinize China’s place in the region. Dissecting the nuances of Chinese diplomacy and foreign policy towards such a large swath of energy-rich territory that is so deeply ensconced in a U.S.-led alliance and security architecture also provides insight into the course of Sino-U.S. relations and China’s trajectory overall. Driven by its quest for oil to fuel its economy—China is the world’s second largest importer of oil—and access to untapped consumer markets for its exports, China’s footprint in the region is poised to grow in the years ahead.
Given this background, it is worth looking beyond the energy and economic interests that underlie Beijing’s presence in the Arab world to examine its approach to handling some of the most contentious issues impacting the region, including the circumstances that culminated in the independence of Southern Sudan and the conflict in Libya. China portrays itself as an ally and friend of Arab countries; China’s public diplomacy towards Arab leaders and publics is replete with references to its commitment to friendship and the fostering of relationships based on “mutual respect,” “equality” and “sovereignty.” These themes underpin Beijing’s adherence to a policy of “non-interference” in other nations’ affairs. China also affirms its support for the issues and causes that resonate among Arabs (Xinhua News Agency [Beijing], November 10, 2010). In doing so, China attempts to distinguish itself from other powers in the region, most notably the United States. Although the United States has engendered feelings ranging from suspicion to resentment to hostility, China has assumed the role of a benign power that stands by its partners and provides an alternative to the United States.
Yet in the cases of Sudan and Libya, principle seems to be divorced from practice in the application of Chinese foreign policy. Despite vocal and material Chinese support for Sudan over the years as it fought numerous secessionist movements and garnered international pressure stemming from its links to international terrorism and war crimes indictments, Beijing ultimately sided with the global consensus and recognized the independence of the Republic of South Sudan (Xinhua News Agency, July 9). Likewise, while strongly opposing foreign intervention in Libya, China did not employ its veto power as a permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC) to thwart the passage of UNSC Resolution 1973. This resolution paved the way for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-led military campaign to support the rebellion against Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi’s forces. China instead chose to abstain from the vote. China’s opposition to NATO’s military campaign also has not precluded it from meeting with members of the NATO-backed insurgents fighting al-Qaddafi’s forces (Al-Jazeera [Doha], June 21). China’s apparent contradictory approach to “non-interference” is especially salient seeing that in both Sudan and Libya, China also appeared to violate its firm position on combating what it calls the “Three Evils" or "Three Forces” (三股势力): terrorism, separatism and religious extremism (Xinhua News Agency, September 22, 2006).
One goal of Chinese foreign policy over the years was to enlist international support for the “One China” principle that defines Taiwan, Tibet and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region as sovereign parts of the People’s Republic of China, despite the latter two’s restive independence-minded, ethno-sectarian and nationalist identity politics. . . .