The Formula Behind China’s ‘Non-Interventionist’ Foreign Policy – Analysis


From peacekeeping to climate change, China’s foreign policy has reflected its vision for global governance as its influence grows around the globe. After many years of sitting on the sidelines, China contributes more troops to UN peacekeeping missions than any other permanent member of the U.N Security Council. China ranks 12th amongst nations contributing blue helmets, and China is the second largest financer of the force behind the United States. Beijing is financially helping Syria’s refugee crisis pledging millions of dollars to Middle Eastern countries dealing with refugees who are displaced.

China is also investing heavily on port development across the globe to expand and secure trade routes through its Belt and Road Initiative. While Beijing’s non-interventionist policy grows, it remains steadfast to their Five Principles for Peaceful Coexistence plan. These principles include mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in other internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence. Because of these principles, China has been reluctant to vote for sanctions in the U.N Security Council, but recently, Beijing supported the new sanctions against North Korea after another missile test was carried out by the hermit country. The sanctions were carried out to increase economic pressure on Pyongyang to return to negotiations on its nuclear program.

China’s Priorities on the Korean Peninsula

The biggest priority for China on the Korean Peninsula is denuclearization, and Beijing is deeply committed to non-proliferation where all sides can work together to prevent the DPRK from developing its nuclear capacity. China is also in favor of a peaceful resolution between the different actors to solve this issue.

If you talk to many senior officials in Washington, they say that China is unwilling to do more when it comes to tensions and diffusing the crisis with North Korea. Washington cannot only point the finger at China, but there really isn’t much China can do to leverage any pressure on North Korea to diffuse the situation. The only way this situation between Washington and Pyongyang can diffuse itself is for the United States to agree to the double freeze policy proposed by China and Russia for a halt on U.S-South Korea military exercises in exchange for North Korea to reduce its nuclear tests.

This kind of reciprocity would allow all the sides involved in the Korean Peninsula issue to talk and make progress. The North Koreans agreed to the double freeze policy for over three years now, and China has embraced this formula. Denuclearization might be the long-term goal, but talks that can lead to a diplomatic solution could be a huge step towards achieving peace on the Korean Peninsula.

In terms of economic pressure, China is the main source of trade for North Korea, but there are some serious humanitarian concerns in the DPRK. The two economic prongs of China’s engagement with North Korea are trade and investment, two main factors that have been affected by U.N Security Council sanctions. Some of the products that have not been able to get into North Korea because of the sanctions have been seafood, ore, iron, and coal to name a few. Most people including the critics are skeptical of Chinese assistance from reaching the DPRK, but is it politically correct to cut off a country from food and energy supplies because the government is conducting nuclear tests? China’s position is not to punish the North Korean people for what the North Korean government, but the humanitarian situation there is beyond catastrophic.

The bottom line to all of this is for the United States to conduct a policy of diplomacy to negotiate with the North Koreans. Many Americans have said that the North Koreans are not interested in any kind of talks, but this is not entirely true. North Korea has said that they are willing to return to the negotiating table, but the U.S is asking the North Koreans to return to the talks that took place in 2005, where the North Korean government would commit to denuclearization, but this was a precondition that proved to be difficult for Pyongyang. The DPRK may want to talk about the nuclear issue, but now is not the time. Instead, the North Koreans would be interested in a double freeze and an immediate reconciliation.

How Does China’s Djibouti Base Factor into its Non-Intervention Policy?

China opened its first overseas military base in the Horn of Africa, specifically for logistic support more than military support. The overseas base in Africa is also used for urgent emergency issues and the ultimate purpose of the Djibouti base is for economic, trade, and personnel issues. In the future, this base could be further expanded for military purposes and China could build more bases in the long-term.

China’s fundamental philosophy of peace and stability is by promoting economic growth and good governance that comes together with military assistance. Djibouti is not only the beginning of China’s foot in the door in Africa, but it is also the first Chinese naval base overseas. China has always had the agenda of a peaceful rise on the international stage. Since 2009, China has surpassed the United States as Africa’s biggest trading partner, and the reason for this is because African companies and governments see from the Chinese perspective, something favorable compared to the western system of maximizing corporate profits. China has a different goal, and that goal is to conform to the five principles of peaceful coexistence to benefit the African countries, and China can get natural resources in exchange for providing machinery and technology to the region. In addition, the Chinese perspective in Africa is vastly different from the old, colonial, western model of extracting industries that got rich off Africa.

China has been a stabilizing force in Africa. In some ways perhaps, China’s efforts to make good relations with the U.S, and going along with the U.S in Libya, for example, backfired when they abstained on U.N Resolution 1973, which authorized the use of force to protect civilians, but the NATO countries (U.S. Britain, and France) took an aggressive approach to overthrow the Libyan government, and this was something China did not want to sign onto. In fact, the borders of the African continent were created by the European colonial powers for colonial purposes and interests.

The consequences of colonialism were created in Africa to benefit the colonial powers, and the special case of China was that they were not a part of this legacy. China is a part of the developing world that is anti-colonialism, and the African people will see China as a partner that can bring real change by developing much-needed infrastructure and economic projects that can fill the void of the western powers.

How do Peacekeeping Missions Benefit China?

China has contributed more peacekeeping troops than the four other members of the U.N Security Council. The People’s Liberation Army can benefit from peacekeeping missions because it gives troops combat experience, and the missions will also give troops the exposure to managing operations. This is a learning experience for China because China has never been involved in a confrontational conflict in over three decades, the last time this happened was with Vietnam in 1979.

The peacekeeping missions by the PLA give China more maneuverability in Africa since the United States has lost its stature in the continent. When Trump became president, he announced a significant reduction on UN peacekeeping efforts, and at the same time, we see China filling the void in different activities that are carried out by the United Nations. In 2015, China, along with the Obama Administration agreed on the Paris Climate Agreement and since the Trump Administration withdrew from the deal, China has taken over the leadership role on climate change. In addition, China is emerging as one of the dominant powers in the U.N Security Council, and its peacekeeping missions have made a great contribution to the global community.

The United Nations was created by the United States and the European powers after the Second World War that built a new framework for global governance. As a result, the United States replaced the British as the dominant world power, and it wanted to play this role. It is also interesting and important that we have the Trump Administration pushing hard for an ‘America First’ policy that pushes the U.S as an exceptional power rather than pushing the U.S as a leadership role model. China as a rising global power should step into the global community not by challenging U.S hegemony, which a lot of policymakers get wrong in Washington, but as a power that can play a more responsible role on global issues.

Can China Stick with Peaceful Coexistence in the Future?

China’s five principles goals work in theory, but we live in a geopolitical world that is far from peaceful. If you talk to Chinese diplomats today, they would say that China will still stick to its non-intervention principles, and they will also use active engagement to carry out these principles. We should also make a distinction between the three I’s: Intervention, Interference, and Influence. When China contributes U.N peacekeepers for peacekeeping missions, China does not see this as interference of a recipient country’s internal affairs. Then comes the tricky point of influencing policy because does influencing policy constitute interference? This depends on who you ask. However, in the case of China, it has a very rich box of tools to influence other countries policies for example, using economic incentives like coercive investment and trade opportunities, so China has other tools to influence other countries without using military force.

China’s five principles are proactive principles that create a structural framework for Chinese foreign policy. China would have a different set of principles if they force to react to menacing moves by an outside power that are a threat to China. For example, if the United States carried out military force on the Korean Peninsula, China would feel that their national interests are compelling them to do something since it shares a border with North Korea. China’s principles are again, proactive, but reactive states need to react to their own challenges of protecting national interests which is not only up to China, but other major players in the world.

Vincent Lofaso

Vincent Lofaso is a recent graduate of Manhattan College with a Political Science major with a focus in international affairs. Most of his research is related on geopolitical and security issues.

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