Many are still digging out from the aftermath of Hurricane Irene today. For those east coasters stranded inside this weekend and without power as Irene rolled through, you may have missed that the State Department gave the green light to a proposed plan to develop a pipeline to bring oil from Canadian tar sands to the United States, and The Washington Post Sunday print edition’s report on the toll that the famine in Somalia is having on a country reeling from two decades of civil war. But it was this report from The Washington Post on Sunday that caught my eye: “For China, relations with Libya a balancing act.”
One of the still developing stories in Libya is what will happen with the nation’s oil industry and foreign oil contracts once the civil war is over. Understandably this has foreign investors nervous, wondering whether or not the contracts they brokered with the Gaddafi regime will be honored by whoever comes to power. According to The Washington Post, China is one of those worried parties: “Beijing is scrambling to distance itself from a leader who lauded its approach to dissent and awarded Chinese companies billions of dollars in contracts — but who has for years also embarrassed, unsettled and sometimes defied the Chinese leadership.”
According to the Post, Chinese leaders have been vocal about the need for whoever succeeds Gaddafi to “protect the interests and rights of Chinese investors,” including contracts that are valued at nearly $19 billion dollars. “The plea followed a warning from an official with the rebels’ oil company that China and Russia could lose out in petroleum deals under a new Libyan government because they had shown little support for the anti-Gaddafi rebellion — a stance that in China’s case reflected the tension at the heart of its diplomacy,” The Washington Post reported. Indeed, this balancing act that China must perform, as the Post described, “how to balance its oft-stated but increasingly threadbare doctrine of non-interference in the affairs of other nations with its own economic and political self-interest,” is an interesting dilemma.
According to the Post, Beijing’s cost-benefit analysis seems to be changing. When the conflict in Libya began in February, Beijing wielded its vast-censorship infrastructure to block all media mentions of the events unfolding in North Africa. But The Washington Post reported yesterday that when the rebels began moving into Tripoli last week, Beijing allowed “scant coverage”, even though the coverage “focused mainly on the perils of Western meddling.” Nevertheless, it is an interesting shift in policy.
It is of course too early to tell what any of this means, especially given that events in Libya are still unfolding. However, one has to wonder whether or not Beijing will give a hard look at how to apply its non-intervention policy in cases such as Libya. China, after all, acquiesced in not blocking a UN Security Council resolution that enabled NATO intervention in Libya, instead choosing to abstain from the vote. I suspect though that it is not likely that China will do away with its non-intervention doctrine anytime soon, given that its no-strings-attached foreign policy approach has helped China secure access to resources in other places in Africa and across the globe that it may not otherwise have been able to secure. But its dilemma in Libya nevertheless raises some interesting concerns about the tenor of Chinese foreign policy that will be fascinating to watch as Beijing tries to grapple with these challenges.
This Week’s Events
At 9 AM sharp this morning, head to the Press Club for an event on the TransCanada pipeline, Drawing a Line in the Tar Sands: Why Stopping the TransCanada Pipeline to the U.S. is Vital to the Future of Our Children and Planet. At 2 PM, the Wilson Center will host Digging Deeper: Water, Women, and Conflict.
On Wednesday, the Wilson Center will host A Discussion with Allan Kardec Duailibi Barros, Director of Agência Nacional do Petróleo, Gás Natural e Biocombustíveis (a Brazilian biofuel company) at 10 AM.
Finally, beginning at 8 AM on Friday, head to Georgetown University for the Georgetown Clean Tech & Energy Conference.