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

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.


The hazards of Fukushima: a more radioactive future?

Posted in Uncategorized by NTSblog on August 27, 2013

There is increasing concern about the leakage of radioactive water from the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant and rightly so. In addition to the previously reported 300 tons of radioactive groundwater that has been leaking into the Pacific Ocean everyday (most probably since 2011), there is now confirmation that  300 tons more of highly radioactive water has also leaked into groundwater over the past month. The Asia-Pacific region would have to be more prepared to accept a more radioactive future and to consider important aspects of domestic nuclear energy governance in Japan.

The Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority has announced that the radioactive water leak is being raised from being an ‘anomaly’ (Level 1) to a ‘serious incident’ (Level 3) in the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale  (INES). A ‘serious incident’ refers to ‘exposure in excess of ten times the statutory annual limit for workers’ with relatively low health hazard from exposure to radiation.This rating however has yet to be confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Among the most confronting and alarmist of warnings from the scientific community is the impact of the Pacific Ocean currents on the circulation of the radioactive water from Fukushima.  Imagine a continuously directed movement of ocean water flowing for thousands of kilometres circulating the world’s oceans and marine life. Radioactive materials maybe diluted over time in this vast ocean but  there are still more studies that need to be carried out to confirm the radioactive contamination of the marine environment and marine species in the northern Pacific Ocean (or even beyond).

Second, the radiation dose of the water that was recently reported exceeds the average annual global limit for nuclear workers. It is so toxic that within 10 hours of exposure, anyone in proximity to the leak would likely suffer from radiation sickness including nausea and a drop in white blood cells.

Third, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric (TEPCO) is now looking for help from the international community to stabilize and decommission its damaged reactors, when they should have asked for help right from the start. TEPCO’s reluctance to call out for help at the outset of the 2011 meltdown has led to the dire consequence of putting the Japanese nuclear energy sector in limbo.

Part of his attempt to renew nuclear energy to reboot Japan’s economy and consequently to save face, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now calling this a national concern, and has announced that a ‘swift and multi-faceted’ government strategy will be carried out to assist TEPCO. But more so, this should have been an international effort right from the start. Leaving the decommissioning of the reactor to its operator is not the most practical direction that the disaster’s managers took. Given the difficulties that TEPCO has been experiencing right from the 2011 meltdown (and even before that), TEPCO should not have been allowed to shoulder the responsibility of solely decommissioning the three damaged reactors. This begs the question whether external actors and the rest of the nuclear energy community should have extended its expertise immediately to deal with the disaster, even without TEPCO’s appeal for help. What would be worse to contemplate is that the Japanese nuclear energy community is just not prepared to deal with this kind of nuclear disaster.