April 24th, 2011 | Global Times Libyan crisis tests China’s flexible diplomacy
The Libyan crisis has left the pro- and anti- Gaddafi sides as incompatible as fire and water. And China has gradually been dragged into the dispute. Whether in Tripoli, still controlled by Muammar al-Gaddafi’s forces, or Benghazi, the base of the rebels, ordinary people seemed grateful to China, but also had complaints.
Gaddafi’s supporters praised China and Russia for abstaining on UN Resolution 1973, but complained that if they had voted against, the NATO airstrikes wouldn’t have occurred. The opposition forces, on the other hand, asked why China was still withholding recognition from their new regime and hadn’t offered help.
The mood of the Arab public shifts easily, and beliefs such as that China sells inferior merchandise to Arab countries, or is stealing Middle Eastern oil, have greatly affected the way local people think about China.
China’s vote on the UN Security Council on sanctions against Libya has already declared its position.
So far, only the countries that actually joined the military actions against Gaddafi’s regime have recognized rebels as the legitimate government of Libya. The recognition of rebels’ legitimacy is necessary to justify their military interventions.
Meanwhile, none of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) have publicly backed the rebels.
But China can’t delay in building bridges to the Libyan opposition. Rather than staying passive, China needs to seize the diplomatic initiative on solving the Libyan problem.
I suggest China participate in the process of finding a political solution to the crisis in Libya. The African Union, for example, sent envoys to hear appeals from both sides. The road map recently proposed by the African Union was unilaterally accepted by Gaddafi. There’s no doubt that China’s mediation will be quite difficult. The future of Gaddafi should be decided by Libyans themselves. However, by mediation and participation, China can build connections and make its contribution to regional peace.
China can still do something despite the difficulty.
In the history of foreign relations, China has often acted with flexibility and wisdom. In 2008, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia.
A couple of years ago, China had already opened diplomatic offices in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.
In 2006, when Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas clashed with Israel, I visited Beirut and learned that Hezbollah had already made contact with China.
Early this year, Nijab Mikati was elected Lebanese Prime Minister with support from Hezbollah. The contacts between China and Hezbollah helped form links between China and Lebanon’s new government.
In September 2008, China opened a consulate general in Juba, Southern Sudan. In January this year, the Southern Sudan voted for independence, which indicated that a new country will soon appear in Africa. China can keep stable relationships with both Northern and Southern Sudan.
How to mediate between both two sides of Libya and how to politically settle Libyan issue will test China’s diplomatic wisdom. First, China has to explain clearly to the rebels that it doesn’t support dictators. In recent years, China increased investment in Libya. But during the 42 years of government of Gaddafi, the Chinese mainland has not been the only party to benefit.
The Gaddafi family maintained a shady relation with Taiwan. Gaddafi’s son Saif visited Taiwan and has invited Taiwan’s representatives to Tripoli and along with the businessmen who organized his visit to Taiwan.
China should try to build basic connections with the “Libyan National Transitional Council,” ask its big companies to return to Benghazi and try to show how it hopes for political stability in Libya, as well as explaining China’s constant diplomatic policy of not to interfere with the internal affairs of other countries.
In the past, China dealt with many big and sensitive issues quietly. On this uncertain Libyan issue, what flexible strategy China will adopt is worth considering.
The author is a reporter with the Global Times.
By Gu Di