August 29, 2011

This Weekend’s News: In Libya, A Chinese Foreign Policy Dilemma

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
”, 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

Finally, beginning at 8 AM on Friday, head to Georgetown
University for the Georgetown
Clean Tech & Energy Conference