Chinese policy is increasingly taking on "neo-colonial" outlines. To protect its interests, Beijing may deviate from the rule of non-interference.
The concept of "national interests" is interpreted by each state differently. The United States, in particular, uses it as a pretext for using military force in remote parts of the world - “in order to protect national interests.”
China, which has every chance of taking an equal place with the United States in the international community, has consistently upheld the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries - for many years this has been a key postulate of its foreign policy.
The growing influence of the PRC, the formation of numerous Chinese diasporas and billions of dollars of injections into the economies of developing countries led to a gradual departure from this principle. The need to protect the economic and political interests of the country came into conflict with traditional views, evidenced by a new study by the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
It was based on the principle of non-interference in foreign affairs that China refused to support both Russia and Western countries on the crisis in Ukraine.
At the same time, Beijing is pursuing an aggressive policy regarding disputed territories. In November, 2013, the Chinese authorities announced the creation of an “air defense zone” over the Senkaku archipelago, which Japan claims. In January, it became known that the People’s Liberation Army of China (PLA) had prepared a plan for a military operation against the Philippines in order to return Chungye Island. In May, the actions of the Chinese oil company in the Paracel archipelago exacerbated the conflict with Vietnam. Both countries sent warships to the disputed area of the South China Sea, and a series of anti-Chinese pogroms took place in Vietnamese cities.
A ship with Chinese workers leaves the Vietnamese port of Vung Ang, 19 May 2014 of the year. Photo: Hau Dinh / AP
As a result, China had to send a fleet to evacuate its citizens from Vietnam to 600. This is not the largest evacuation in the new stories the countries, the authors of the study remind: in March 2011 of the year over 35 thousands of Chinese, mostly workers and oil workers, were evacuated after the start of the civil war in Libya. Now on the agenda is a similar operation in Iraq, where more than 10 thousands of Chinese citizens work. The successes of jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, attacking Baghdad, threaten not only ordinary Chinese, but also the country's business interests: the state-owned company PetroChina is the largest investor in the Iraqi oil sector.
A significant part of China’s oil and gas exports is built on supplies from politically unstable regions in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia, scientists say. Chinese analysts have identified four major threats to the economic interests of their country in “risk zones”: terrorism, extortion, and kidnapping; civil protests, riots, military actions; negative changes in the policy of power structures; any form of expropriation, especially in Latin America.
It is precisely as expropriation that the Chinese view the loss of the Venezuelan oil fields of the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and Sinopec in 2006. Despite the excellent relations with the PRC, then-President Hugo Chavez achieved strict compliance with the law on the nationalization of oil, and as a result 80% of CNPC fields were transferred to the state-owned company PDVSA.
In more or less stable countries, the interests of China are threatened by anti-Chinese sentiment. Political forces in such countries are often gaining popularity, playing on the desire of the population to reduce China’s role in the national economy, the authors of the study write.
The protest against the intention of the People's Republic of China to lease land for the cultivation of crops, Almaty, Kazakhstan, 30 January 2010 year. Photo: Shamil Zhumatov / Reuters
As an example, they recall Kazakhstan, where workers in joint ventures repeatedly staged strikes demanding improved working conditions and higher wages. During one of these protests in the local press, the Chinese were called "exploiters of the Kazakh people." In May 2011, the leading opposition party Azat called on people to take to the streets, describing the influence of China as "a threat to the independence and national security of Kazakhastan."
Similar sentiments are observed at the other end of the world - in Myanmar. CNPC has invested in the construction of a gas pipeline connecting the two countries and is completing the construction of a similar gas transportation facility. The growth of anti-Chinese sentiment led to clashes between local workers and those arriving from the PRC in January 2014, during which the oil pipeline was attempted to be set on fire.
According to the authors of the study, the majority of Chinese analysts blame external factors on these events. In particular, in the situation in Central Asia, they accuse the Russian-language media, which continue to use the stereotypes of the Cold War and the Western forces of influence, "envious of the success of the Central Asian policy of the PRC." In other cases, analysts believe local politicians manipulate public opinion with the help of the “Chinese threat” guilty.
Chinese state-owned companies are also represented in regions covered by armed confrontation, where their employees are in immediate danger. One of the bloodiest attacks against Chinese citizens happened in April 2007, in one of the Ethiopian provinces. During an attack by supporters of the creation of the Great Somalia from the Ogaden National Liberation Front on the town of Abola, 65 Ethiopians and nine Chinese oilmen from Sinopec were killed. In March 2011, Sinopec was forced to evacuate its employees from Yemen to 30, where an oil pipeline was destroyed as a result of Al-Qaida attacks.
These and other similar cases have led to a heated discussion on the effectiveness of the principle of non-interference in the Chinese academic environment, the study explains. In addition to the interests of state-owned companies, there are millions of citizens abroad. There is no exact data, but most analysts agree on a figure of five million. Only the number of students in foreign universities reaches 400 thousands.
The probability of "overseas" use of parts of the PLA is still regarded as unlikely. As the scientists explain, the Chinese do not want to create a network of military bases around the world, which only entails the growth of xenophobic sentiments. In 2011, the authorities of the Seychelles invited the People's Republic of China to create an anti-piracy base on their territory, but the matter did not get further. The Pakistani seaport of Gwadar, built by China, could well become the base of the Navy, but so far this is a matter of a distant future - now it is used exclusively for trade.
Today, foreign mercenaries remain the main instrument for protecting Chinese interests abroad. Preference is given to Western private military companies (PMCs) because of the fear that an armed clash involving Chinese security guards will cast a shadow over the entire state.
Chinese worker at an oil rig in Iraq, 29 Jun 2010 of the year. Photo: Leila Fadel / The Washington Post / Getty Images / Fotobank.ru
This prejudice is actively used by businessmen from other countries. For example, the founder of the most famous American PMC, Blackwater, Eric Prince, registered in Abu Dhabi a new company, the Frontiers Resource Group, specifically focused on the security services market for Chinese enterprises in Africa. In Pakistan, ZTE hired local security guards and also invited Western security experts. In Iraq, the Chinese, in addition to foreign experts, receive assistance from local security officials.
Gradually, Chinese PMCs emerge that do not shun work abroad. For example, the large security company Shandong Huawei Security Group, in addition to 2010, set up a Security Center Abroad in Beijing in Beijing, for which former members of special forces were hired.
In general, it is still too early to talk about the complete refusal of the PRC from the principle of non-intervention, conclude the authors of the study. The likelihood of using brute military power beyond the borders of the country remains extremely unlikely, they are sure. However, the need to protect their own citizens, the growth of economic interests and unpredictable critical situations can lead to a radical change in policy.