The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


China’s Dual-Track Approach to the Protection of Civilians

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security,Uncategorized by NTSblog on August 28, 2013
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As of March 2013, up to 70,000 people have been killed in the internal conflict of Syria since March 2011, 2 million internally displaced and 900,000 fleeing abroad. In addition to displacement, serious violations of human rights have been widespread, perpetrated by both the government troops and rebel groups. Women and children have been exceptionally vulnerable. The humanitarian consequences in Syria highlight the urgency of the protection of civilians in armed conflicts (POC) – which seeks to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence. The primary responsibility to implement POC rests with the governments concerned and the international community has the responsibility to assist.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China’s support is essential for the concerted international effort to resolve conflict and ensure protection for civilians. For instance, China has been criticized for its veto against three Security Council draft resolutions on Syria that condemned the use of force against of civilians and urged for fulfilling the responsibility to protect civilians.  Syria is not the only POC-related case that China has vetoed or threatened to veto. In 2007, China vetoed a draft resolution on the situation in Myanmar that urged the authorities to stop troops from attacking civilians. As a result, China has been accused of protecting regimes that perpetrate or tolerate human rights abuses.

However, this accusation does not fully reflect China’s attitude to POC. In fact, China is developing a dual-track approach to POC. It remains highly cautious about endorsing intrusive measures, such as setting up no-fly zones, still less military operations without consent from the host country. In the Security Council open debates on POC, China has defended the Westphalian principles – respect for sovereignty and non-interference. The Chinese representatives have stated that prevention is the fundamental solution to POC-related issues. Peaceful means are preferred and excessive pressure would only complicate the situation. It has also emphasised that lack of development constitutes a key root cause of many conflicts.

China has also actively facilitated the peace processes of many conflicts, through both multilateral and bilateral channels. China actively supported peace efforts under the UN auspices, such as good offices and peacekeeping operations. Ibrahim Gambari, who closely involved in the peace process in Myanmar, said China helped persuade the military government to engage in conversations with him. With regard to Sudan, the Chinese President Hu Jintao and senior diplomats managed to persuade the Sudanese side to cooperate with international peace efforts. Gambari noted that the engineering team of the Chinese peacekeeping force China also supported mediation efforts concerning the Syrian crisis by Kofi Annan, the UN Special Envoy, and backed his peace plan.

China’s concern about sovereignty is largely caused by the Taiwan question and the secessionist problems in Xinjiang and Tibet. Hence, it always adopts a traditional understanding of sovereignty. The growth of national power has to some extent reduced such a concern. and resulted in the increasing need and expectation for greater Chinese contribution to global affairs. Hence, the dual-track approach is a balance between the misgiving about the erosion of sovereignty and its growing national power.

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