Chinese worries at the end of Gadaffi

With the capture of Tripoli, as well as recent news reports indicating that much of his family is now in Algeria and that he himself may have fled to Niger, Col. Gadaffi’s regime’ in Libya seems to be well and truly ended and the aftermath looks anything but positive for the PRC.

A People’s Daily Op-Ed by James M. Dorsley on August 30th makes the case that not only in Libya, but also in the rest of the Middle East, that the PRC’s pro Gadaffi cum “neutral” policies have endangered Chinese contracts and relations. Particularly further afield in a destabilised and potentially post- Bashir Syria, as well as in the minds of Arabs, many of whom have been following the revolution in detail; the PRC has come off as a supporter of the “dictator’s status quo”. Citing comments from sources within the Libyan Rebel movement, Dorsley argues that Chinese assets and business dealings in Libya, despite rebel promises to honour existing contracts are also in jeopardy because of the nation’s political approach to the rebellion. Under the guise of investigating past corrupt business dealings (the majority of all business in Gadaffi’s Libya being corrupt) the rebel council is threatening Chinese interests, the article also goes onto to imply that Chinese refusals to recognise the rebel council’s legitimacy, as well as PRC media condemnations of NATO airstrikes, have shut China out. It goes on to argue that if the same happens in Syria, the outcome will look very much the same if not worse, as unlike with Libya, the PRC “cannot point to having done anything to stop the Syrian crackdown… nor can they point to any public contact with Assad’s opponents”.

Sensing the recent, none-too-subtle hints from the Libyan rebels, the PRC has attempted to paint their own picture of the political dynamics at the same time as it hoped to gain assurances of goodwill from the rebels. First, in an article from the Global Times on September 4th, the PRC assured that it’s “principle of no interference” in foreign nation’s internal affairs was actually beneficial to independence and freedom in the region. It implied that Chinese development and investment programmes, which do not discriminate against nations based on their politics, would assist Arab society in creating jobs, reducing poverty and in ushering in stability. This parallels Western nations, who have begun in earnest a policy of advocating non-support of violent or corrupt regimes. Indeed in Libya and Syria, Chinese investment programmes have notably resulted in jobs for Chinese workers (who later had to be evacuated in their thousands from Libya) as well as Arabs connected to Gadaffi’s and Bashir’s regimes, if nothing else, strengthening the dictators.

Another article, insisting on the benefits of Chinese “non interference” came out earlier on August 31st via the Global Times, it argued that in order to avert “Chinese losses” in the region, it should take a down to “earth approach”; being neither too for or against Western intentions. The article went on however to state plainly that breaking with China’s traditional policy of non interference would make the resulting “diplomatic uncertainties… unbearable”, and hence China would most likely not make too many waves, despite worries about being outflanked in the region by the pro-reform West.

Finally though, months into the revolution, the PRC has made some meaningful and pragmatic moves and came in behind the rebels after previous tacit support of Gadaffi, but only at the very last minute. On the 12th of September, weeks after UN Veto-partner Russia and long after NATO countries and much of the rest of the developed world gave their support and recognition to the Libyan Rebel Council, China has come to recognise the rebels. In a deceptively saccharine article titled “China respects Libyan people’s choice” the Chinese foreign ministry was quoted as congratulating the PRC for its policies of non interference while the bloody revolution took place and also in subtly reminding the Libyans of their obligations toward Chinese business contracts “uphold all agreements signed with Beijing before the overthrow of Moammar Gaddafi”.

Further complicating relations between the new Libya and the PRC, the Chinese media has sought ways to denigrate Western nations involved in the conflict, despite their successes in both unseating Gadaffi, stopping missile attacks and in avoiding civilian deaths. Notably the argument that NATO nations only invaded Libya because of its’ oil wealth is still prevalent in PRC media, as well as unsavory claims that the rebel movement owes it’s allegiance and is subservient to the West. For example, on the second of September, China Daily used the “Fox News” method of airing un-cited ‘opinions’ in order to introduce and validate ‘talking point’ opinions that correspond with propaganda objectives. The editorial, titled, “Libyan People first”, citing the recent “Friends of Libya” conference in France argued that the NATO countries scrambling’s “to grab a share of the dividends of war has caused many to question the true intentions of the military intervention in Libya”.

Another article published after Tripoli had been fallen, by An Huihou on People’s Daily; in little over 500 words casts Western nations involved in the bombing campaign as immoral, inhumane, rude, brutal and selfish. Seemingly sourcing “tens of thousands of…civilian… casualties” whose deaths are attributable to NATO’s “enlarging of the civil war” rather than Gadaffi’s rockets and soldiers, An Huihou goes on to state that NATO’s hastening of the end of the same war makes them immoral for extending past the boundaries of the UNSC backed no fly-zone. Unsurprisingly,
these attacks on NATO airpower, the results of which have drastically shortened the war and bolstered the rebels, have garnered the PRC no new friends in Libya.                                                                           

Chinese attempts at spin doctoring events in Libya and denigrating NATO; as transparent as they seem in West are equally so in the Middle East and have been picked up by news organisations like Al Jazeera. As such, they could prove more damaging as Arab interest and goodwill toward the rebels is more prevalent than in the nations of the West. Further enflaming relations, recent reports that Chinese arms companies were at the very least, considering supplying the Gadaffi regime’ with rockets and rifles, caused outrage amongst the rebels who openly charged the PRC of defying UN arms sanctions. In reply China has promised a review of its practices and has argued that the discussions, leading only to the issuing of invoices to Gaddaffi respresentitaves, were done behind its’ back.

Unlike with Libya, after the Sudanese civil war and referendum, wherein Sudan broke down into two nations, the PRC were still able to maintain favourable trade relations and goodwill with both parties. This, despite previous PRC support of the status quo in the UN via Vetoing any and all actions regarding the genocide and unrest in Darfur. In many ways, the events in Darfur seem to mirror those in Libya, at least politically, but it seems that with Libya, the West had won out and the Chinese have overplayed their hand, and if noises from the Libyan rebels and Arabs on the streets are anything to go by, they are now about to feel the consequences.

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