China’s Libya Hedge Highlights Shift on Noninterference

China’s Libya Hedge Highlights Shift on Noninterference

The meeting last week between China's ambassador to Qatar and the head of Libya's opposition movement signaled a proactive new phase in China's engagement with Libya's future. The move is a further step away from China's traditional insistence on not interfering in the internal affairs of other nations and privileging intergovernmental relations. Yet there are reminders of a not-too-distant past when Maoist China had extensive contacts with rebels around the globe. Now, China is testing out new responses and possibilities for conflict mediation while also looking to secure its own interests, whatever the outcome in Libya.

China showed considerable flexibility in the first phase of the Libyan crisis. It had countrymen to secure -- more than 35,000 Chinese nationals were trapped during the uprising -- and significant commercial interests to protect. China voted for the U.N. Security Council's first resolution on the crisis, which slapped sanctions on Moammar Gadhafi for abuses against his own people and referred the Libyan leader and his top aides to the International Criminal Court.

In addition to the desire to protect Chinese assets in Libya, the determined push by Chinese partners in the African Union and the Arab League for an international response was another crucial factor in Beijing's willingness to vote in favor of the initial U.N. response.

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