Darfur and R2P: China’s Responsibility To Protect…It’s Own Interests

February 11, 2009

Although tardy changes are occuring in Western perceptions of the Darfur tragedy, little seems to have changed in China’s relations with Sudan.  In fact, China remains one of the country’s leading economic partners. By extension, China can be seen to support Khartoum’s terror both directly—being the main supplier of small arms and providing technical assistance towards the development of indigenous weapon production—and indirectly—by pouring investments into Sudan’s oil industry.

There are two main explanations for China’s reluctance to review its policies. The first stems from purely internal concerns; in fact, the Chinese government’s legitimacy is strongly linked to its ability to further economic growth, for which stable access to cheap resources is integral. The second lies in a distinctive interpretation of R2P, commonplace in the developing world, where the principle tends to be depicted as an unacceptably vague concept favouring Western interests. In other words, R2P is conceptualised as a device legitimating selective Western interference with the internal affairs of certain states. This is partly why China seeks to remove the human security agenda from the international discussion board.

So far, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has systematically blocked any strong sanctions on Sudan. Instead, it has adopted a more traditional outlook on state sovereignty, pleading for ‘soft measures’ and ‘patience’, which in practice would only prolong the sufferings in Darfur.

Skepticism fused with disinclination towards potential economic burden have been the main factors that pre-determined China’s disposition to neutrality and promotion of passive solutions with regard to the humanitarian disaster in Sudan.With the Darfur crisis continuing, do you think that R2P can ever override China’s national priorities and bring a positive, not a negative effort, to solve this crisis?

By Matthew Clayton and Dmitrij Cesniuk


17 Responses to “Darfur and R2P: China’s Responsibility To Protect…It’s Own Interests”

  1. rebeccalau Says:

    Thank you for the succinct analysis. China’s friendly relations with Sudan was again apparent as Sudanese delegates showered China with praise at the latter’s periodic review of its human rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council two days ago.

    Economic interests aside, I think the heart of the matter lies in a broader debate of what constitutes ‘universal values and principles’, of which there are no de facto consensus. In fact, with China’s formidable economic growth in the past decade, it has become an emerging paradigm for developing countries in challenging the wisdom of western democracy, neo-liberalism, the rule of law, human rights etc. The concept of state sovereignty is no exception, and the threshold for foreign intervention under R2P would inevitably be higher in the view of authoritarian one-party states like China. What’s more, China’s domestic troubles with ethnic minorities such as the Tibetans and the Uyghurs would further discourage it from adopting the R2P principle.

    Moreover, as you rightly mentioned, China’s performance legitimacy renders it more sensitive to oil prices and supplies, especially now as it struggles to keep the economy from slumping during the financial tsunami.

    Hence even as China rises to a world power status, demonstrating increased sophistication in its domestic and foreign policies, I could only be cautiously optimistic that R2P would override its national interests in the short run.

    – Rebecca Lau

  2. dmitces Says:

    I would like to thank Rebecca for her comment.

    Unfortunately for the people in Darfur, primarily introvert Chinese political system [traditionally] does not indicate much interest in domestic affairs of their partners unless these dynamics have serious negative impact (really or potentially) on the relations between the states.

    In this context I would like to refer to the influence that international activists had upon the vector of Chinese foreign policies during the last phase of country’s preparation for the Olympic Games. Although China resisted any synthesis of sports and politics, there existed one brief moment when the country expressed its intention to compromise on Darfur after being bombarded with massive public protests and speeches performed by such well-known people as Stephen Spielberg and George Clooney who referred to the statute of the Games according to which discontinuance of violence is a necessary precondition for any state liable for their organization.

    The question of how successful the program was is itself a topic for another debate, as after the end of the Olympic season there was an apparent slide of Chinese strategies towards the previously pursued policies but one conclusion that can be drawn from this example is that the linchpin to compel China to shift towards fairer modes of cooperation (both within and beyond its borders) is located at the bottom level of social organization, as in the long run wider recognition of its methods as inappropriate can harmfully affect the attractiveness of Chinese products and thus get back at its economic indicators.

    – Matthew Clayton and Dmitrij Cesniuk

  3. Ghadir Mahdy Says:

    Thank you Mathew, Dmitrij and Rebecca.
    Although long-awaited, R2P is still in my opinion, a bold and groundbreaking concept yet to be properly applied. But as long as nation states are downplaying their roles in dealing directly with what has been a humanitarian crisis at a halt, Darfur will just be another Rwanda.
    If political history has taught us anything, it is that political and economic interests will never be outweighed by any human acts of goodwill, especially if they come at a cost. Mathew and Dmitrij, I can see why you emphasized the significance of the ‘Genocide Olympics’ ordeal, however in the larger scheme of events, the outcome was minor and not very effective.
    Rebecca, I have to disagree with your argument about how because R2P defies western political thought thus is more likely to be favored by countries like China. Firstly, because this is evident in China’s relationship with the Sudanese government as they stall for time via the Security Council. Secondly, China seems to have established itself as a sanctuary for corrupt Sudanese government and UN officials in turn for a sturdy hand in Sudanese soil, for obvious reasons.
    R2P, sovereignty, whatever official label or ideology, it does not matter in the end when there is oil at stake. Social activism, bottom-up theory and so on are all ideals in good spirit, but how many incidents like ‘Genocide Olympics’ is it going to take before movements like that are in effect and are able to stomp all over diplomacy at one of those UN Security Council meetings?
    Not enough.

  4. Carmen Ng Says:

    Thank you Matthew, Dmitrij, Rebecca and Ghadir.

    If anyone here recalls the June 4th incident happened in summer 1989 in Beijing Tiananmen Square, where unarmed protestors calling for a less corrupted government were killed (and rolled over) by tanks, I’d like to make a point that ideology as an underlying factor might even be more powerful than the economic cost-benefit concern, because China today has still not resolved its own problematic legacy of past injustice (also its present controversy in dealing with Tibetians), and hence, even if there’s no economic benefit from prolonging Sudan’s instability, it is far from realistic to imagine that China would adopt a proactive role in implementing the R2P principle, simply because China itself does not impose self-restraint on itself to bear the “responsibility to protect” its own people when its national interest is being threatened. China is a one-party-state which has its own unique definition of who constitutes its “people”. State interest and more precisely, party’s interest, overrides people’s interests, that’s why there is no rule of law and constitutionalism in China, because in China, the rulers do not seek for any formal mechanism that protects its people with equal treatment and equal rights.

    When we understand the core values of China as a state, it makes sense to see why China refrains itself from interferring Sudan’s internal affairs.

    China cannot break the glass it uses to protect itself to interfere another state’s internal affairs. To do so, it would open the door for other states (like U.S.) to interere with its own (June 4th, Tibet issue). Therefore, to uphold the R2P principle would be simply self-defeating for China (not to mention that it’ll hamper China’s economic interest, which has been pointed out by you all in great detail).

  5. rebeccalau Says:

    Ghadir, I am afraid you have misunderstood my argument. If you could kindly re-read my comment above, I did not suggest R2P would be more likely to be favored by countries like China because the principle defies western political ideologies. In fact, the very point I tried to put forward is that China is NOT likely to adopt the R2P principle in the short run, for reasons similar to Carmen’s thoughts.

    Perhaps I should clarify and elaborate a bit more on what I meant by how China’s ideological deviation from Western political concepts would discourage her further in adopting the R2P principle. China’s own economic miracle had provided a normative paradigm for developing nations(some term it as the ‘Beijing Consensus’) as an alternative to the ‘Washington consensus’, whereby market reforms and economic growth without democracy were apparently possible.

    Of course, that’s not to ignore the negative effects and social costs of such reforms. But my point is that the Chinese government is confident of its own set of governance ideologies and is wary of any international pressure to conform to ‘universal principles’. This is even more so for concepts such as sovereignty, self-determination and foreign intervention, given China’s own sensitive problems with its minorities and suppression of dissents. Hence not only would China be unlikely to accept the R2P principles easily, any threshold for foreign intervention would be difficult to compromise, as authoritarian states like China would set the threshold exceedingly high (which may defeat the original purpose of R2P).

  6. petrolhead98 Says:

    Hello Ghadir, thank you for reading the blog and for your comment.

    Indeed, it does seem that the only collective security that has actually emerged connected to R2P is insecurity through collective apathy.

    I agree that it is unfortunate that the Genocide Olympics did not produce a significant, effective change for the benefit of the people of Darfur. However, for China to even issue an intention to compromise shows that progress may be possible if pressure can be focused on those who hold the key to making R2P a reality for long enough.

    China was able to appear compromising not only because of the limited length of the Olympics, but also the short-termism of the media, which is demonstrated in nearly any crisis in international politics. The best examples in the last 6 months or so have been the crises in Georgia and Gaza.

    The application of pressure within the U.N Security Council is, of course, a vicious circle. Although they did not all obstruct action on Darfur, they are unwilling to advocate Kofi Annan’s proposals for reform because they continue to enjoy the veto privileges.

    However, Ghadir, I think you may have misinterpreted Rebecca’s comments. My interpretation of her comments is was that because China is challenging Western ideology with its own comprehensive vision of the world, R2P will face increasing opposition and obstruction in the future because of its roots in the countries that are influential in the current international order.

    -Matthew Clayton and Dmitrij Cesniuk

  7. petrolhead98 Says:

    *Amendment*: As the reply to Ghadir was composed, Rebecca has elaborated on her initial comments. She has offered a more complete elaboration than our first reply to Ghadir.

    -Matthew Clayton and Dmitrij Cesniuk

  8. luis Says:

    I agreed with Ghadir Mahdy, when he said ‘economic and political interest will never be outweighed by any human acts of goodwill, especially if htey come at a cost’. Remember there are several areas that are related and at some point are invitable and compatible. Economic, politics and social, are not compatible. At major aspects each concept conceive other and viceversa. If China has any kind of deal with sudan might be to consider the less-harm possible to Chinesse people.
    If oil is a problematic they need to solve to in order to achieve R2P, then is justified their actions at some points and situations, only if those actions can ensure a governments viability to continue protecting their citizens -as the differents ways protection can be conceive by each ideology, thoughts, goals, etc. China is the case too.
    I think what I want to say is that Each government will look to garantee their minimun base to maintain the pillars of ther economic, social, politics, commerce, R2P, etc, if those pillars represents their best interest. It is their decision if they will interact with other parties or negotiated some ‘interest’ for some ‘resources’ or supports.


  9. petrolhead98 Says:

    Thank you for your comment Carmen.

    We do agree that understanding China’s core values as a state does assist us in investigating the reasons for China’s actions in Sudan. The glass and door analogy you use sums up very well a key dilemma for the Chinese government with the R2P principle. The Russians have the same dilemma because of their actions in Chechnya.

    However, although upholding the R2P principle may be self-defeating for these countries due to domestic problems, the controversy surrounding the withdrawal decisions of the U.S and Belgian governments in the Somali and Rwandan crises remain. These were both liberal democracies, with the formal constitutional protective mechanisms, but they still withdrew.

    But we should write that China actually does have a constitution. We do concede, of course, that it is not in the liberal democratic image of, for example, Canada, the most prominent country in advocating the R2P principle.

  10. Clara Fok Says:

    Thank you Matthew and Dmitrij for your analysis.

    I cannot agree more with Carmen, Matthew, and Dmitrij on the importance of ideology and internal legitimacy in China. However, it is inevitable for China to compromise its sovereignty with international norms as a rising power.

    Though Ghadir was right to point out that political and economic interests will never be outweighed by the humanitarian act of goodwill, but I don’t see China’s eventual compromise as one. China realizes that in order to maintain its internal legitimacy, it needs to be externally legitimate as well. A compromise with R2P principles may overcome the lack of soft power that China desperate needs to be externally legitimate.

    As a rising power, China’s strong stance on sovereignty is restraining its development of soft power. As China’s economy continues to grow, so will its stake in political affairs, especially as a member of the UN Security Council. Should China be involved in a rather controversial conflict, it will need to leverage on its soft power. China will need more than economic power to maintain its influence and competitiveness with other emerging powers.

    Moreover, there is skepticism regarding China’s intentions, whether if it is a status quo power or a revisionist power. If China continues to hold on to its non-intervention principle, it may be setting the stage for criticism of revisionist motives. However, agreeing with R2P principles may also invite unwanted attention to its domestic issues. Despite the fact that R2P favors Western political thought and is a risk to Chinese internal affairs, a compromise is also an opportunity for China to comfortably accommodate itself into the Western liberal order, and hence developing its soft power.

    Nevertheless, we are living in a multipolar world where peace triumphs material power. If China desires to emerge as one of the influential poles and leader of East Asia, China will have to compromise its sovereignty for regional and international respect. It is only a matter of time, but perhaps not in time to resolve the Darfur crisis.


  11. petrolhead98 Says:

    Thank you for your thoughts Luis.

    Rebecca picked up on China’s emphasis on sovereignty and self-determination. But as you highlight, the sovereignty of nations that obstruct R2P will not be violated unless their domestic matters fall under the R2P principle.

    It is certainly a controversial situation that R2P acknowledges, in its section about Security Council members behavior. But at the same time the structure of the United Nations, as I mentioned earlier in response to Ghadir, makes it difficult to apply pressure to members that do not behave dutifully or responsibly.

    Even if one was to go as far as arguing that China is as responsible for the Darfur conflict as Sudan, a violation of Chinese sovereignty is of course out of the question. Human security bridges moral concerns with practical concerns, but the practical concerns continue to prevail.

    -Matthew Clayton and Dmitrij Cesniuk

  12. andyho82 Says:

    Thank you for your post, it is very nicely written and thought provoking. There had been many calls for China to exert pressure on shady regimes such as Sudan’s and Myanmar’s based on their relationships with the respective countries. I agree with your findings that China’s single minded actions will only cause the crisis to continue.

    I believe that the China places the economy and legitimacy of the Party to be way above of that of any R2P measure – that is if they believe in R2P in the first place. Even if they were to use R2P to intervene in Sudan’s affairs, it will very likely be of a scenario where an event in Sudan causes the rules in their bilateral contract to be flouted. Else, it is more likely to be a strategic “business deal” between the two states and the crisis goes on and China will continue to veto sanctions in the UN to protect such regimes.

    I agree with Clara that China at some point will need to compromise its sovereignty to abide with international norms, but to what extent is possible? In the increasingly multi-polar world R2P has not reached a level of maturity nor it has reached worldwide consensus and thus it will be difficult to enforce, especially when a country is remains sovereign.

    Stemming from Ghadir’s view that China has established itself as a sanctuary for corrupt governments, one can only wonder how many other countries will choose to do the same in the future as energy resources gets increasingly depleted in order to allow themselves to remain internally legitimate as long as the energy needs are met?

  13. dmitces Says:

    Clara and Andy, thank you for your thoughts and comprehensive compilation of the main ideas that are articulated within this debate. You were right to argue that the current realities by which I mean further development of the crisis will raise (in fact, to a certain degree has already raised) the dilemma of fundamental priorities of a state in which discrete foreign policies have absolutely no strategic capacities to outweigh inner issues unless their non-implementation provokes considerable damage to the state’s real sector or its symbolic image on the regional/global level.

    On the other hand, one of the forces that attracts foreign investments into Chinese economy is its continuous social stability that is not always maintained with soft mechanisms and might diverge from refusal of political agency to certain minorities (e.g. non-provision of ethnic Turkic peoples in the northern provinces with passports) to forced exclusion and physical elimination of activists. Therefore, active participation within the R2P doctrine would inevitably reach these questions and demand their formal address. However, continuing Clara’s reasoning, it is possible to anticipate a point at which the curves of Chinese economic development and its ‘social question’ will intersect, which (taking into consideration the Party’s reluctance to give up its power) will provoke, simultaneous or not, acts of aggression aimed either inwards the state, to cool down the population, or outwards, to reserve new resources to fuel the economy. However bitter it might be to admit but in the worst scenario, non-ratification of R2P provides China with untied hands with regard to the choice of instruments both in the present and futuristic contexts.

    However, we would not be so optimistic about the zeitgeist of peace, as empirical facts demonstrate a much more complicated interplay between peace and material well-being that often depends on concrete chronological demands and varying interpretations as well as comparative value of these concepts. In his last paragraph, Andy contrasts exceptional realities of the crisis and deterioration of natural resources as a likely precondition to provoke cheating on the state level that might transliterate into real threat to the livelihoods of a wider proportion of individuals that will occur on the route to satisfaction of a state’s needs.

    – Matthew Clayton and Dmitrij Cesniuk

  14. andyho82 Says:

    Hi Matthew and Dmitrij,

    Thanks for the reply. I believe, to a good extent, that the curves of the economic development and its social question has already intersected, and I do not believe that social stability is a particular highlight of China as well. Plenty of incidents such as unrest and riots go about in cities, sometimes over relatively small incidents. Naturally, for many of the incidents you won’t be able to see on state media due to media blackout.

    Here’s some “stability” for thought:

    If you can’t see the link, search for “eastsouthwestnorth” on google. There’s a whole list of interesting events in that website dating back for years.


  15. petrolhead98 Says:

    Thanks for those links Andy,

    I did not read the entire incident in detail, just had a quick scan now.

    Given the damage that was caused, the cover up was not suprising.

  16. You can certainly see your skills in the article you write.
    The world hopes for more passionate writers like you
    who are not afraid to say how they believe. At all times go after your heart.

  17. Now I am ready to do my breakfast, after having my breakfast
    coming again to read other news.

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