“Five Million Reasons China May Be Drawn Into Foreign Conflicts”
Bloomberg Businessweek, June 15, 2015
“With five million citizens to protect and billions of investment dollars at stake, China is rethinking its policy of keeping out of other countries’ affairs. China has long made loans conditional on contracts for its companies. In recent years it has sent an army of its nationals to work on pipelines, roads and dams in such hot spots as South Sudan, Yemen and Pakistan. Increasingly, it has to go across borders to protect or rescue them. That makes it harder to stick to the policy espoused by then-premier Zhou Enlai in 1955 of not interfering in ‘internal’ matters, something that has seen China decline to back international sanctions against Russia over Ukraine or the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. … That is forcing China to take a more proactive approach to securing its interests and the safety of its people. With more engagement abroad there’s a risk that China, an emerging power with a military to match, is sucked into conflicts and runs up against the U.S. when tensions are already flaring over China’s disputed claims in the South China Sea. … For more than a half century China stuck to Zhou’s policy predicated on non-interference and respect for the sovereignty of others. The policy partly reflected a focus on domestic stability and economic development by governments that lacked the means or interest to play a more active role offshore. It also led President Barack Obama to last year describe China’s leaders as ‘free riders’ while others carried the global security burden. China’s greater involvement in projects around the world comes alongside its military expansion, as it seeks to project its power abroad and challenge decades of U.S. dominance of the global economic and strategic order. U.S. policymakers are debating whether to find ways to accommodate China’s rise or to seek to contain it. As China’s policy evolves its leaders are dipping their toe into areas once considered taboo, including the practice of dealing only with a country’s leaders. … China sent naval vessels into Yemen’s waters in April to rescue 629 Chinese citizens and 279 foreign nationals from escalating violence, the first time the People’s Liberation Army helped other countries evacuate their citizens. … China’s foreign-policy evolution is becoming institutionalized. The concept of protecting nationals was added to the priority list at the 18th Communist Party Congress in 2012. The PLA’s role in protecting China’s interests abroad was enshrined in the 2013 Defense White Paper for the first time.”
Quickie analysis: China has long wanted the amenities of a great power without the projection of force. Now, China is becoming more comfortable with projecting the force, too.