What Libya and Syria tell us about Chinese Interventionism

An Analysis by Frauke Heidemann

Beijing, China December 2013

This analysis solely focuses on the Chinese stance on an intervention into Libya and Syria and therefore does not include the role China played in the negotiations about the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria. That very topic will however be the focus of an upcoming analysis for the China Non-Interference Project.


Chinese official rhetoric on interventionism is dominated by claiming the strict adherence to the principle of non-interference. This was however questioned in the context of the NATO led intervention in Libya, which was authorized by the Chinese and Russian abstention in the UN Security Council. This paper analyzes the two cases of Libya and Syria and the way they reflect the Chinese policy on interventionism. The argument is made that the Chinese foreign policy decision-making process is far less idealistic and much more pragmatic when it comes to interference in other countries. Judging from history and looking at the growing Chinese interests in unstable regions around the globe, it is however questionable, if a leading role of China in the future will be possible without interference abroad.


China; interventionism, Libya, non-interference, Syria, UN, UNSC,

With the civil war in Syria after three years still ongoing, the debate about whether or not the international community should intervene is coming up again and again. The most recent case of a multilateral intervention approved by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) was the case of the no-fly zone imposed on Libya in 2011. In the case of Syria no agreement on an intervention could be reached so far. The blame was shifted towards Russia and China, as the two veto-powers continuously blocked resolutions aimed at imposing sanctions on Assad and thereby invited international criticism. But was this unwillingness of China to act impacted by a deeper belief in the official rhetoric of non-interference or was it a pragmatic decision made in light of both geopolitical as well as domestic political interests? What shapes the Chinese policy on interventionism?

The Chinese actions as well as inactions in Libya and Syria will be the case studies for the purpose of this analysis. The question why China acts in some cases and blocks actions in others is at the center of the debate on the Chinese stance on interventionism. To investigate the underlying strategy, not only the actions undertaken but also the official statements made as well as the potential primary reasons – both concerning foreign and domestic policy – will be analyzed.


Chinese Interventionism

In order to understand China’s actions in the cases of Libya and Syria one needs to understand the principles underlying the official Chinese foreign policy. Chinese foreign policy[1] revolves around the ideas of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence (和平共处五项原则), which were set forth by Zhou Enlai and Jawaharlal Nehru during the negotiations on relations between China and India in the Tibet region. The principles were formally included into the agreement the two parties reached in 1954 and has since then been adopted in a variety of international documents.[2] The principles are (1) mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, (2) mutual non-aggression, (3) non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, (4) equality and mutual benefit and (5) peaceful coexistence.[3] This interpretation of international law is according to the Westphalian principle of non-interference.[4] The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence were also reiterated in the Chinese Defense White Paper of 2010[5] and in the White Paper on China’s Peaceful Development of 2011, where it was stressed that “China respects the right of the people of other countries to independently choose their own social system and path of development, and does not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs”.[6]

UN Voting Patterns

When discussing the Chinese stance on interventionism the best indicator as to where China was standing both on foreign interventions as well as on sanctions is accessible when looking at its voting pattern in the UNSC. The timeframe taken a closer look at will be from 1971 to 2009.[7] Wuthnow grouped the objections of China on resolutions and drafts into various sections. For the purpose of this analysis however, only the ones related to the Chinese stance on interventionism were analyzed further.

China has abstained as well as not participated (NP) on several drafts and resolutions. These objections were raised in the following frequency:[8]

Objections Times Mentioned
Territorial Integrity (TI) Does not respect territorial integrity/sovereignty 20
Anti-Hegemonism (AH) Promotes hegemonism or imperialism 16
National Independence (NI) Undermines national independence/self-determination 15
Peacekeeping (PK) Principled stand on UN forces/UN intervention 13
Charter Stance (CS) Principled stand on invoking Chapter VII of the UN Charter 11

The sample chosen for the purpose of this analysis was limited to only 56 cases of abstentions and 24 cases of NPs. The time periods for the purpose of this analysis are 1971 to 1979 – from the time China replaced Taiwan as a permanent member of the UNSC until the time when diplomatic relations with the US were established, the period from 1980 to 1989 just until the Tiananmen “incident”, the time from 1990 to the time of the WTO accession in 2001 and from 2001 until 2009.[9]

Chinese vetoes were less frequent than abstentions as in period 1 there were two vetoes, accounting for 1% out of the 195 votes casted.[10] From 1980 to 1989 there were no cases in which China vetoed a draft resolution,[11] between 1990 and 2001 there were two cases[12] in which China used its veto power and finally from 2002 until 2009 there were again two cases in which China vetoed.[13]

  Abstention NPs Total Vetoes
1971-1979 1 23 24 2
1980-1989 2 1 3 0
1990-2001 43 0 43 2
2001-2009 10 0 10 2
TOTAL 56 24 80 6

Only 47 of these 80 cases of abstentions and NPs included objections that involved reasons related to interventionism and general foreign policy ideals of China.

Chart 1: Chinese Objections in the UNSC


What becomes evident is that the Chinese official explanations of their abstentions and NPs shifted from a focus at principles on UN interventions, concerns about non-interference and criticism of hegemonism or imperialism in the years from 1971 to 1979 towards objections on grounds of a principled stand on Chapter VII of the UN Charter and the respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty since 1990. This can be seen as an example of how the Chinese official rhetoric shifted as China became more influential on the international stage. While in its early years China tried to side with other “revolutionary” countries that were opposing Western hegemony or imperialism and were in general against interventions, the Chinese official rhetoric has grown towards the language of a more mature power, aware of its national interests and of how to play them on the international stage. China is however still highly cautious of its territorial integrity, which also becomes evident in the objects stated. It has however begun to understand the UNSC as a means of its foreign policy. Instead of focusing on ideals such as non-interventionism in general, China got used to using the tools it was offered on the international stage and argues with the rights mandated to it by the UN Charter.

Given the issue of UN sanctions, a general Chinese dislike of this particular instrument becomes evident. From 1971 to 2009 China abstained or not participated in votes on UNSC resolutions or drafts about sanctions in 19 out of 80 cases.[14] The official position on sanctions is that they should be “applied with prudence on the precondition that all peaceful means have been exhausted.”[15]


Libya Case

In the wake of the so-called Arab spring and the ongoing revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, Libya became increasingly unstable. In February 2011 people went to the streets to protest against their 42-year long state leader Muammar al-Qaddafi and a revolution broke out. The protesters formed the Transitional National Council (TNC), which aimed at overthrowing Qaddafi and introducing democracy to Libya. Those protests turned from peaceful into violent due to military crackdowns and evolved into a full-scale civil war that lasted until late October 2011.[16] Qaddafi called his opponents “cockroaches” in one of his speeches and called for his followers to attack them. He himself would “cleanse Libya house by house”[17] and he stated that “I will burn Libya; I will distribute arms to the tribes. Libya will run red with blood”.[18] During this conflict, estimates state that approximately 30´000 Libyans were killed – including fighters and civilians, regime proponents as well as rebels.[19] According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates about 300’000 Libyans became refugees and approximately 550’000 became – at least temporarily – internally displaced during the uprising.[20]

The regional response to this humanitarian crisis was a call for action in late February from the League of Arab States (AL), the Organization of the Islamic Conference as well as the African Union (AU). They did however call for different measures that should be taken by the international community. The first call for a no-fly zone imposed by the UNSC came from the Gulf Cooperation Council on March 7, 2011 and was followed up by the AL on March 12, 2011.[21] Mainly North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces followed up on this resolution and imposed a no-fly zone under Operation Odyssey Dawn. [22] The conflict ended in late October 2011 with the death of the Libyan leader Qaddafi and the rebels taking over Tripoli.[23]

Debates in UN Security Council

The case of Libya was elaborated on within the UNSC on February 26, 2011 when the UNSC unanimously passed Resolution 1970 (S/RES/1970). In the preamble the UNSC recalled the “Libyan authorities’ responsibility to protect its population.”[24] The UNSC also referred the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC)[25] and imposed an arms embargo on Libya.

As the situation did not improve, the UNSC adopted Resolution 1973 (S/RES/1973) on March 17, 2011 and imposed a no-fly zone over Libya. The vote for S/RES/1973 was not unanimous. It was passed while Brazil, India and Germany abstained from voting, as did the members of the Permanent 5 (P5) and veto-powers China and Russia that could have potentially blocked the resolution.[26] S/RES/1973 demanded a ceasefire, pointed out that the attacks against the citizens constitute potential crimes against humanity and authorized “all necessary measures” for the protection of civilians.[27] This is why some see the abstention as a first step of China towards acknowledging the right of the international community to intervene – if the decision is made within the UNSC and thereby requires at least silent approval by China.

Chinese Statements on Libya

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu stated concerning the situation in Libya in March 2011:

“Whether the UNSC should take further actions against Libya will depend on the developments of the situation in Libya and consultations among the UNCSC members. We believe there are several principles to follow. The first is to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Libya. The second is to push for a peaceful settlement of the current crisis in Libya through dialogue. Third, the UNSC should listen to and respect the opinions of the Arabian and African countries.”[28]

After the abstention on S/RES/1973 and the subsequent passing of the resolution, the Chinese permanent representative to the UN Li Baodong stated:

“China has always emphasized that, in its relevant actions, the Security Council should follow the United Nations Charter and the norms governing international law, respect the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Libya and resolve the current crisis in Libya through peaceful means.”[29]

As quoted by the People’s Daily Li Baodong furthermore pointed out:

“China attaches great importance to the relevant decision by the 22-member Arab league on the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya … We also attach great importance to the position of African countries and the African Union. … In view of this and considering the special circumstance surrounding the situation in Libya, China abstained during the vote on the resolution, Resolution 1973.”[30]

While the NATO operation was still ongoing, the rhetoric in the Chinese state controlled media shifted towards an increasingly critical stance on the no-fly zone. The People’s Daily wrote on March 23:

“military involvement of Western coalitions in the Middle East is closely associated with oil reserves and strategic interestsIraq was invaded for oil. Now it is Libya …“[31]

“The operation, which is causing severe civilian causalities and infrastructure damage, goes far beyond the U.N. resolution calling for a no-fly zone and is sparking global outrage over ‘excessive violence’”[32]

The position that was presented both through official statements and state controlled media shifted from a general understanding for the situation and valuing the fact that the AL as a major regional forum supported the no-fly zone, towards a critical stance on the actions undertaken by the NATO led forces. While China seemingly did not completely disagree with the establishment of a no-fly zone, it did not want to officially support the consequences as well as the interpretations by NATO members of the respective UN resolution on a no-fly zone.

Reasons for Chinese Position

The Chinese reasons for its voting on the Libya case are manifold and range from general concerns about foreign policy and the supposed conviction of non-interventionism to more practical and realist concerns about regional stability and national interests. China is the fourth largest country in the world, with over 1.3 billion people and 56 different ethnicities spread to such remote areas as Tibet. Considering this and therein a foreign policy shaped by domestic challenges, the understanding of uprisings against the ruling power as happening in Syria today is different from a traditional Western understanding.[33] In the aftermath of the so-called Arab spring, there was widespread concern in China due to a potential spillover effect. The “Jasmine Protests” that erupted in China lead to a serious of crackdowns that was described by some as the “most serious and widespread wave of repression since the Tiananmen Square crackdown”.[34] This domestic component has to be taken into consideration when analyzing Chinese foreign policy behavior.

For China the interests in Libya were however far deeper than just concerning territorial integrity, national sovereignty and non-interference. When the conflict broke out, China was involved in projects that were “worth more than $18 billion”.[35] In addition to that, China imported 3% of its oil from Libya in 2010.[36] As China is importing over 50% of its oil from the Middle East,[37] it has profound interest in the stability of the broader region, especially given that China is a net importer of oil.[38] Furthermore, about 36’000 Chinese workers were in Libya and had to be rescued during the civil war. [39] In this context it is arguable that it was more the state-centric economic concern about regional stability and the Chinese people in harms way than humanitarian concerns that lead to the Chinese abstention on S/RES/1973.[40] China furthermore has both political as well as economic ties with the AL and the AU. As both regional organizations not only backed the intervention but called for the establishment of the no-fly zone, this certainly played a role in the Chinese decision-making process.[41]

While there would have been the opportunity for China to start off political relations with the newly established National Transitional Council (NTC) in Libya once the decision to abstain on S/RES/1973 was made, the relations were strained by a newspaper article from The Global and Mail that released documentation on Qaddafi officials travelling to Beijing in July 2011, to meet representatives of the China North Industries Corporation (Norinco), the China National Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation (CPMIC), and China XinXing Import and Export Corporation – all of them state-controlled arms manufacturers. Despite the UN arms embargo on Libya those state-controlled companies were seemingly willing to sell Qaddafi weapons worth $200 million, including “rocket launchers, antitank missiles, and portable surface-to-air missiles.”[42]

When calculating costs and benefits of the abstention on S/RES/1973, China had the advantage of not having to get involved itself, which is why there were no clear downsides to having Western countries spending time and money on this intervention in Libya. The only potential downside was concerning the relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). As Qaddafi announced in 2003 the decision to unilaterally give up Libya’s nuclear ambitions,[43] In the eyes of the DPRK this may present a clear sign: if you give up your nuclear program, you give up your leverage in negotiations and as a leader you might end up either toppled or killed. In light of regional stability, China had no interest in giving the DPRK an incentive to keep up or even enhance its nuclear program. However given all the upsides of the intervention being carried out by Western countries and China being able to free-ride on the consequences, the balance of the cost-benefit analysis was clearly on the benefit side. It allowed China to save its citizens and opened up opportunities to secure the investments that were made in Libya. While the relations with the rebels were less positive than expected – because of the lack of actual support for the intervention and the arms deals taking place – China did however change its calculus in the case of Syria.


Syria Case

The civil war in Syria broke out in March 2011 and has been going on for over almost three years now. So far, according to some estimates about 120’000 people have been killed in Syria – among them fighters for the government, rebels and civilians.[44] The conflict between the rebels and the forces fighting for Bashar al-Assad has left more than 4 million Syrians, some even say more than 6.5 million internally displaced and more than 2 million people have become refugees,[45] creating enormous problems for neighboring countries such as Jordan and Lebanon.[46] The civil war in Syria began to spill over the borders and create even more instability in an already fragile region. Lebanon for an example has been hit by rockets because of the support of Hezbollah for the Assad regime.[47]

The situation is further being complicated by the fact that neither side can afford to win as the loss might result in further prosecution as the conflict divides along religious lines. While Assad is part of the Alawite minority and supported by Hezbollah fighters – Shia Islamists backed by Iran[48] – the rebels include groups of Sunni fighters that have affiliations with groups close to al-Qaeda[49] and the Salafists.[50]

Chinese Actions

In the case of Syria, China has vetoed three draft resolutions that were brought before the UNSC and has thereby shifted away from its usual policy of repeatedly abstaining on UNSC resolutions.[51] While China supported the six-point peace plan brought forward by Kofi Annan and also supports the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS),[52] there are no indications so far as to whether China is willing to allow for another U.N.-led intervention.[53] The Chinese policy on Syria has been described as “sophisticated hedging”.[54] China is not only building relations with the rebel forces but also acting as a mediator outside.[55]


Reasons for Chinese Position

China has never been fond of sanctions as a measure and as mentioned before, has labeled it counter-productive in many cases. The usual policy of China is however to abstain rather than to veto a draft resolution aiming at imposing sanctions. But unlike in the case of Libya there was no clear statement made by the AL concerning what actions should be taken in Syria.[56] Some therefore argue that for China, there was a disincentive from allowing for an intervention into Syria as this – given the component of also religious struggle and ethnic minorities fighting for their position – could be seen as a precedent that might at some point be used against China, if it comes to complications in Xinjiang or Tibet.[57]

One major reason for the Chinese position on Syria furthermore is the recent experience of abstaining on S/RES/1973 and allowing for the Libyan no-fly zone.[58] Vetoing the resolutions in the UNSC does not bear any costs for China. While in the case of Libya China had to fear significant losses in case the relations with the new leadership worsened, China has no such economic or security interests in Syria that might be in serious danger and could have important direct implications for China in case relations deteriorate.[59]

The Chinese geostrategic interest in the current situation in Syria stems from various reasons. China has investments in the Syrian oil sector ranging from China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) having 50% of the Kokab oil project to re-develop the Qubibe oil field over the CNPC and the Indian Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) managing their 38% share in the Al-Furat Petroleum Company through a 50/50 joint venture called Himalaya Energy to the CNPC having a MOU with Syria for a refinery in Deir-al Zour that supposedly has a capacity of 100,000 barrels per day (bpd).[60] Additionally, CNPC purchased a 35% share in Shell’s fully owned subsidiary, the Syria Petroleum Development BV (SPD) that owns three production licenses covering 40 oil fields in Libya with an output of 23 thousand barrels per day (kb/d) in 2009 for around $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion.[61] This only comes in addition to China being the world’s largest net oil importer and thereby heavily reliant on stable oil prices and less instability in the Middle East. Furthermore, Iran, one of the important oil and natural gas suppliers of China, is not only a close ally with al-Assad but also historically a friend of China.[62] Therefore, any turn against the Syrian regime could upset the relations between China and Iran. Moreover, Russia is a close ally of Syria and in order to not upset Sino-Russian relations, a continuation of the current policy of non-interventionism in Syria was seen as the best solution for China.

The Chinese decision-making on Syria is a direct result from the Libya experience but does not present any radical shift. While it is unusual that China used its veto power three times for a conflict it has no direct stance in, this policy is the result of disappointment about a perceived lack of gratitude from the Libyan rebels. It also presents an easy opportunity to align with Russia on a matter that is of high importance for the Chinese friend.


Future Outlook

The future of Chinese interventionism is a question yet to be answered. The main argument commonly made regarding Chinese foreign policy is that the main principle is sovereignty of existing states.[63] There are however some indicators – as proven by the objections of China in the UNSC – pointing towards a slight shift of policy in this regard, especially concerning countries China has strategic interests in.[64] This was also pointed out by scholars in contact with Chinese officials.[65] Apparently states challenging regional stability should no longer be granted absolute respect – an argument that is in line with the Chinese policy on Libya. It however leads to questions concerning Syria as this certainly destabilizing civil war does not seem to trigger any response of China that would be disregarding national sovereignty. A more likely conclusion is that while the argument of regional stability plays into the Chinese decision-making process, behind the scenes a clear cost-benefit analysis is done.

Among the key questions for the Chinese future stance on interventionism is whether the current “soft power approach”[66] is sustainable, especially in regions such as the Middle East with all the tensions and ongoing conflicts.[67] China already is a global player in terms of investments worldwide but so far did not have to actively secure its interests abroad but could rely on the U.S. to fulfill this role.

Not to neglect is also the domestic argument of how the Chinese restructuring of economic growth away from low-end manufacturing that requires lots of human capital towards higher-value industries will impact internal stability. This rather economic argument is furthermore linked to the Chinese need for reliable energy resources – a reason that might bear the potential to drag China away from the current soft power approach towards more hard power, should it ever find itself in a situation where the U.S. is either no longer willing or capable to guarantee regional security including the security for sea lanes of communication (SLOC).


The findings in the analysis focusing on the underlying ideals of Chinese foreign policy have proven that China is in general rather critical towards interventionism as exercised by Western countries. This was highlighted by the Chinese voting patterns. They did however also clarify that the Chinese objections have been shifting in the process of China’s rise. All this applied to the case studies of Libya and Syria leads to the conclusion that the Chinese policy on interventionism has been pragmatic and influenced by a cost-benefit analysis in the past.

With the U.S. said to be in relative decline and with a smaller international engagement caused by domestic financial restraints, it remains to be seen whether China will fill this power vacuum or not. Such a change would however mean to at least partially overthrow the Chinese non-interference policy. With the U.S. seemingly paying less attention to the Middle East due to either the recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Middle East might experience a new era. The question defining this era is if the Chinese strive for energy security will lead to China becoming a more responsible stakeholder and a power acknowledging that its national interests might override the principle of non-interference.

One of the lessons China learnt from Libya was that by not taking a clear stance on the issue, it allowed for criticism from both sides and certainly did not make the cooperation with the former rebels easier to manage.[68] The most decisive factor will be whether China is going to be more pragmatic when it comes to the question of interventions or if the Libyan experience will lead China to take an even smaller role internationally. The fact that China evacuated all Chinese workers from Libya with the help of the Chinese military shows, that there is a Chinese form of the responsibility to protect (R2P), which mainly focuses on its citizens abroad, even if that means intervening in countries facing a crisis.[69] It will however remain to be seen which forms this new pragmatism will take, especially given the recent leadership transition in China, the ongoing civil war in Syria alongside with an increasing need for regional stability due to the Chinese reliance on energy supply security.

Appendix III – Datasets


Objections Mentioned
PK Principled stand on UN forces/UN intervention 13
CS Principled stand on invoking Chapter VII of the UN Charter 11
NI Undermines national independence/self-determination 15
AH Promotes hegemonism or imperialism 16
TI Does not respect territorial integrity/sovereignty 20

Major parts of the following table were taken from Wuthnow, pp. 368–376 but there was an adaptation made by the author as to that only those cases in which the objections fit the topic of this paper were taken into consideration and only those objections were noted that belong into the group of objections relevant to interventionism.

Year Issue Res./Draft Abst./NP Objections
1971 Cyprus, UN Peacekeeping Force 305 NP PK
1972 Namibia, SG to develop contacts with parties to allow Namibian people to exercise self-determination 309 NP NI (Namibia), AH
1972 Namibia, appoints representative to assist SG with Namibia question 319 NP TI/NI (Namibia), AH
1973 Israel-Lebanon, condemns Israel for attacks on Lebanon 332 A NI (Arabs)
1973 Middle East, Israeli occupation of territories captured 1967 S/1097 NP NI (Palestine), AH
1973 Middle East, ceasefire Yom Kippur War 338 NP AH (USSR, USA)
1973 Israel-Egypt, reaffirming 338, observers 339 NP AH (USSR, USA), NI (Arabs)
1973 Israel-Egypt, establishes Second UN Emergency Force UNEF II) 340 NP PK (UNEF II), AH (USSR, USA)
1973 Israel Egypt, six month renewal period for UNEF II 341 NP PK (UNEF II), AH (USSR, USA)
1974 Israel-Egypt, support to UNEF II 346 NP PK (UNEF II), AH (USSR, USA), NI (Arabs)
1974 Israel-Lebanon, condemns Israeli violation of Lebanon’s territorial integrity 347 NP AH (USSR, USA), NI (Arabs)
1974 Iran-Iraq, ceasefire 348 NP PK (I-I border dispute)
1974 Israel-Syria, UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) 350 NP PK (UNDOF), AH (USSR, USA), NI (Arabs)
1974 Cyprus, UK-Greek-Turkish Declaration S/11399 NP PK (UNFICYP)
1974 Cyprus, safety of members of UNFICYP 359 NP PK (UNFICYP)
1974 Cyprus, disapproval of unilateral military action taken against Cyprus 360 NP PK (UNFICYP)
1976 Middle East, Palestinian right to self-determination, Israel should cede territory seized in 1967 S/11940 NP AH (USSR, USA), NI (Palestine)
1976 South Africa, military activities against Angola 387 NP AH (USSR), TI (Angola), NI (African peoples)
1976 Angola, New Member S/12110 NP AH (USSR), NI (African peoples)
1977 Southern Rhodesia, special representative 415 NP NI (Zimbabwe)
1978 Lebanon, peacekeeping force 425 NP PK (UNIFIL), AH (USSR, USA), NI (Palestine, Lebanon)
1978 Lebanon, establishes UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) 426 NP PK (UNIFIL)
1978 Lebanon, strengthening UNIFIL 427 NP PK (UNIFIL), TI (Lebanon), NI (Arabs)
1978 Namibia, UN Transition Assistance (UNTAG) 435 NP PK (UNTAG), NI (Namibia), AH
1980 US-Iran, sanctions on Iran because of hostage crisis S/13735 NP AH (USSR)
1991 Iraq, est. no fly zone 688 A TI (Iraq)
1992 Bosnia and Herzegovina, enlarging mandate of UN Protection Force 776 A TI (lack of HC approval for UNPROFOR)
1992 Iraq-Kuwait, proceeds of sales of Iraqi petroleum in escrow account 778 A TI (Iraq)
1992 Bosnia and Herzegovina, bans military flights in airspace 781 A CS
1993 Bosnia and Herzegovina, extends ban on military flights 816 A CS
1993 Bosnia and Herzegovina, threatens sanctions on Bosnian Serbs 820 A CS, TI (Bosnia)
1993 Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) – permit OSCE mission to operate in Serbia and Montenegro 855 A TI (FRY)
1994 Rwanda, International Tribunal 955 A CS (tribunal)
1994 Bosnia Herzegovina, enforcement of economic measures S/1994/1358 A CS
1996 Ethiopia-Sudan, sanctions against Sudan 1054 A CS
1996 Cuba-USA, shooting down of civilian aircraft by Cuban Air Force 1067 A TI (airspace)
1997 Albania, Multinational Protection Force (MPF) 1101 A TI (Albania), CS
1997 Albania, temporary extension of MPF 1114 A TI (Albania)
1998 Kosovo, arms embargo on FRY 1160 A TI (FRY)
1998 Kosovo, urges ceasefire, demands that FRY allow international monitors, humanitarian assistance 1199 A TI (FRY)
1998 Kosovo, call on FRY to comply with OSCE and NATO verification missions 1203 A TI (FRY), CS
1998 Tribunal Yugoslavia, condemnation to fail to execute arrest warrants 1207 A TI (FRY), CS
1999 Kosovo, under UN administration, establishes UN Interim Administration Mission 1244 A TI (FRY), CS
2005 Sudan, situation in Darfur 1593 A TI (Sudan)
2006 Middle East situation, partial independence Lebanon 1680 A TI (Lebanon)
2007 Middle East, Special Tribunal for Lebanon 1757 A CS, TI (Lebanon)
2009 Georgia, extends UN Mission S/2009/310 A TI (Georgia)


[1]            For the purpose of this analysis the Chinese foreign policy always refers to that of the People’s Republic of China since its foundation in 1949.

[2]            More on the Five Principles in: “The Five Principles of Peaceful Co-Existence,” Special Report, People’s Daily Online, June 28, 2004, http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200406/28/eng20040628_147763.html, accessed April 2013.

[3]            United Nations Treaty Series 1958, No. 4307, Agreement between the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of China on Trade and Intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India, signed at Peking on April 29, 1954, p. 70, http://treaties.un.org/doc/publication/unts/volume 299/v299.pdf, accessed June 2013.

[4]            Robert Weiss and Steven Hill, “China as Peacekeeper: Implications for the Law and Politics of Humanitarian Intervention,” Yale Journal of International Affairs (Spring/Summer 2011), p. 137. The concept of state sovereignty is part of customary international law and dates back to the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648. This is further elaborated on in: Daniel Silander, “R2P-Principle and Practice? The UNSC on Libya,” Journal of Applied Security Research, Vol. 8, No. 2, p. 262.

[5]            Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, China’s National Defense 2010 White Paper, National Defense Policy, April 2, 2011, http://english.gov.cn/official/2011-03/31/content_1835499_4.htm, accessed June 2013.

[6]            Information Office of the State Council, The People’s Republic of China, China’s Peaceful Development 2011 White Paper, September 2011, http://www.gov.cn/english/official/2011-09/06/content_1941354.htm, accessed June 2013.

[7]            The collection of data is taken from Joel Wuthnow, Beyond the Veto: Chinese Diplomacy in the United Nations Security Council, PhD thesis (New York: Columbia University, 2011), pp. 368-376.

[8]            The data underlying this chart is based on Joel Wuthnow, Beyond the Veto: Chinese Diplomacy in the United Nations Security Council, pp. 368-376 and can be found in Appendix III.

[9]            The time periods coincides partly with the periods chosen by Wuthnow but were done by the author without prior reference to his judgment. For easier orientation in the reading is does however have to be noted that Wuthnow chose the third and fourth period to be as follows: 1990 to 2000 and 2000 to 2009.

[10]          Joel Wuthnow, Beyond the Veto: Chinese Diplomacy in the United Nations Security Council, pp. 28-29.

[11]          Ibid., p. 35.

[12]          Ibid., p. 40. This table however focused on the period from 1990 to 1999.

[13]          Ibid., p. 56.

[14]          There were however several cases in which multiple objections were mentioned.

[15]          Position Paper of the People’s Republic of China on the United Nations Reform, 2005. China usually claimed that more can be achieved through “positive incentives” rather than coercion through sanctions:
Michael D. Swaine, “Chinese Views of the Syrian Conflict,” China Leadership Monitor, No. 39, September 13, 2012, http://carnegieendowment.org/files/Swaine_CLM_39_091312_2.pdf, accessed June 2013.

[16]          Central Intelligence Agency, “CIA World Factbook on Libya,” https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ly.html, accessed April 2013.

[17]          Those quotes come from Qaddafi’s speech of February 2011. More on this speech and the context at Frank Gardner, “Libya protests: Defiant Gaddafi refuses to quit,” BBC News, February 22, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12544624, accessed April 2013.

[18]          This quote of Qaddafi was presented by Mr. Shalgham, representative of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya to the UNSC. He delivered a speech hat the 6490th meeting of the UNSC on February 25, 2011 (S/PV.6490).

[19]          Karin Laub, “Libyan estimate: At least 30,000 died in the war,” The Guardian, September 8, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/9835879, accessed January 2013.

[20]          The data is derived from the UNHCR Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Fact Sheet (January 2013), http://www.unhcr.org/4c907ffe9.html, accessed April 2013.

[21]          International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, “The Crisis in Libya,” http://www.responsibilitytoprotect.org/index.php/crises/crisis-in-libya, accessed April 2013.

[22]          Not only NATO countries but also members of the Arab League participated in the no-fly zone. Sweden was the only country participating in it without being member of either NATO or Arab League. Sweden did however contribute greatly by sending eight JAS 39 Gripen jets, a Saab 340 AEW&C and a C-130 Hercules. More on the commitment of Sweden to the no-fly zone on “Swedish house votes for Libya mission,” The Local, April 1, 2011, http://www.thelocal.se/32958/20110401/ – .UWomTBketOk, accessed June 2013. More on the Operation Unified Protector at NATO, “Nato and Libya: Operation Unified Protector,” http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/71679.htm, accessed June 2013.

[23]          Outreach Programme on the Rwanda Genocide and the United Nations, “The Responsibility to Protect,” Background Note, p. 2, http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/rwanda/pdf/bgresponsibility.pdf, accessed June 2013.

[24]          United Nations Security Council Resolution S/RES/1970 adopted by the Security Council at its 6491st meeting, on February 26, 2011, via unbisnet.un.org, accessed April 2013.

[25]          More on the ICC referral and the case currently before the ICC can be found in the Case Information Sheet on the Situation in Libya, The Prosecutor v. Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdullah Al-Senussi, Case No. ICC-01/11-01/11.

[26]          Voting Record on S/RES/1973, via unbisnet.un.org, accessed April 2013.

[27]          United Nations Security Council Resolution S/RES/1973 adopted by the Security Council at its 6498th meeting, on March 17, 2011, via unbisnet.un.org, accessed April 2013.

[28]          Foreign Ministry of the People’s Republic of China, Statement by the Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Jiang Yu of March 3, 2011, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/xwfw/s2510/t804119.htm, accessed January 2013.

[29]          Permanent Mission of the PRC to the United Nations, Statement by H.E. Ambassador Li Baodong, Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations, at the Security Council Meeting on the Situation in Libya, March 17, 2011, http://www.china-un.org/eng/hyyfy/t824183.htm, accessed January 2013.

[30]          “UN Security Council no-fly zone vote explained,” People’s Daily Online, March 18, 2011, http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90001/90777/90856/7324632.html, accessed April 2013.

[31]          “Libya intervention: Driven by oil or humanitarianism,” People’s Daily Online, March 23, 2011, http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90001/90780/91343/7329108.html, accessed April 2013.

[32]          Ibid.

[33]          Central Intelligence Agency, “CIA World Factbook on China, ”https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ch.html, accessed April 2013.

[34]          James Fallows, “Arab Spring, Chinese Winter,” The Atlantic, July 24, 2011, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/09/arab-spring-chinese-winter/308601/, accessed June 2013.

[35]          “The Libyan dilemma: A rising power starts to knock against the limits of its hallowed ‘non-interference’”, The Economist,  September 10, 2011, http://www.economist.com/node/21528664, accessed April 2013. The projects that Chinese companies were involved in include 50 joint projects ranging amongst others from construction work (according to the China State Construction Engineering Corporation the 20’000 residential construction projects in Libya were worth around 2.68 billion USD) to railway construction (the China Railway Construction Corporation had 4.24 billion USD worth of unfinished projects in Libya). More on the Chinese investment in Libya according to the official state media: “China counting financial losses in Libya,” Global Times, March 4, 2011, http://china.globaltimes.cn/diplomacy/2011-03/629817.html, accessed April 2013.

[36]          “The Libyan dilemma”, The Economist. More on the Chinese oil imports coming from Libya and the investments of Chinese oil companies in: Julie Jiang and Jonathan Sinton, “Overseas Investments by Chinese National Oil Companies: Assessing the drivers and impacts”, International Energy Agency (IEA) Information Paper, February 2011.

[37]          International Energy Agency, Oil & Gas Security, Emergency Response of IEA Countries: Peoples Republic of China, 2012, p. 6.

[38]          Ibid., p. 5. While China is reliant on oil imports it has however to be highlighted that more than 70% of the Chinese energy demand is still satisfied by coal according to the before mentioned IEA Oil and Gas Security, p. 4. Given however that there are debates as to how long China will be able to satisfy its energy demand especially with domestic coal the question as to where oil imports are coming from are of increasing importance for China.

[39]          “The Libyan dilemma”, The Economist. The threat to the Chinese workers led to the People’s Liberation Army Navy operating in the Mediterranean for the first time. During the conflict in Libya China deployed the frigate Xuzhou through the Suez Canal as well as frontline naval assent to a distant location. More on this in: Jonathan D. Pollack, “Unease from Afar”, The Arab Awakening (Brookings Institution Press, November 2011).

[40]          This realist approach is also promoted by Silander, “R2P-Principle and Practice? The UNSC on Libya”, p. 280.

[41]          Michael D. Swaine, “Chinese Views of the Syrian Conflict,” p. 6.

[42]          Graeme Smith, “China offered Gadhafi huge stockpiles of arms: Libyan memos,” The Globe and Mail, Sept. 2, 2011, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/china-offered-gadhafi-huge-stockpiles-of-arms-libyan-memos/article1363316/, accessed May 2013. More on this and the reaction of the rebels also in: Steven Sotloff, “China’s Libya Problem,” The Diplomat, March 14, 2012, http://thediplomat.com/china-power/china’s-libya-problem/, accessed May 2013.

[43]          Randall Newnham, “Carrots, Sticks, and Bombs: The End of Libya’s WMD Program,” Mediterranean Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 3 (Summer 2009), p. 77.

[44]          The last official numbers pointed at about 100’000 casualties. In June 2013 there was a report by Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles stating that 93’000 people had died: “U.N. says 93,000 killed in Syrian conflict, fears for Aleppo,” Reuters, June 13, 2013, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/06/13/uk-syria-crisis-toll-idUKBRE95C08N20130613, accessed June 2013. More on the data provided by the UNHCR in Megan Price, Jeff Klinger, Anas Qtiesh, and Patrick Ball, “Updated Statistical Analysis of Documentation of Killings in the Syrian Arab Republic,” Report commissioned by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (13 June 2013). This report is analyzing seven databases of human rights monitors in Syria as well as one by the Syrian government to collect information about the deaths that the ongoing conflict caused. The number of unique killings identified was 92,901. An analysis of how to predict the potential loss of life in an ongoing conflict in Syria is done by: Adam Scharpf Adam et al., “Die Blutspur des Vetos: Eine Prognose zur Gefahr von extremen Massakern in Syrien,” Zeitschrift für Friedens- und Konfliktforschung, Vol. 2, No. 1 (2013), pp. 6-31 and the argument is made that an intervention is needed. One of the latest statements on this was made by the French President Hollande who pointed towards the 120’000 casualties in the Syrian civil war and urged the UNSC to act. UN News Centre, “France calls for strong UN resolution to enforce Syria’s surrender of chemical weapons,” http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45967&Cr=general+debate&Cr1= – .UotDe5ExYvE, accessed November 2013.

[45]          Data on the Refugees is collected by the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR. More on this at: UNHCR, “Number of Syrian refugees tops 2 million mark with more on the way,” http://www.unhcr.org/522495669.html, accessed November 2013. More information on the internally displaced can be accessed at: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, “Internally Displaced Persons in Syria,” http://www.internal-displacement.org/countries/Syria, accessed June 2013.

[46]          Christopher Phillips, “The impact of Syrian refugees on Turkey and Jordan,” The World Today, Vol. 68, No. 8/9 (October 2012).

[47]          Anne Barnard, “Hezbollah Areas in Beirut Are Hit,” The New York Times, May 26, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/27/world/middleeast/rockets-strike-hezbollahs-beirut-stronghold.html?pagewanted=all, accessed June 2013.

[48]          More on the Hezbollah fighters involved in the Syrian conflict in: Alain Gresh, “Pourqui le Hezbollah participle-t-il aux combates en Syrie?” Le Monde Diplomatique, Les blogs du diplo, March 25, 2013, http://blog.mondediplo.net/2013-03-25-Pourquoi-le-Hezbollah-participe-t-il-aux-combats, accessed June 2013.

[49]          “Syria crisis: Al-Nusra pledges allegiance to al-Qaeda,” BBC News, April 10, 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22095099, accessed June 2013.

[50]          “Tentative Jihad: Syria’s Fundamentalist Opposition,” International Crisis Group Middle East Report No. 131, October 12, 2012, http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/middle-east-north-africa/egypt-syria-lebanon/syria/131-tentative-jihad-syrias-fundamentalist-opposition.aspx, accessed June 2013.

[51]          Michael D. Swaine, “Chinese Views of the Syrian Conflict,” p. 7.

[52]          “Security Council fails to adopt draft resolution on Syria that would have threatened sanctions, due to negative votes of China, Russian Federation,” UN Press Release, Security Council Meeting 6810 (SC/10714), http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2012/sc10714.doc.htm, accessed June 2013.

[53]          On the contrary, the official position presented by the Ambassador Wang Min after the Veto on the Draft Resolution in February 2012 was that China would not “approve of armed intervention forcing a so-called “regime change” in Syria”. More in: “Explanatory Remarks by Ambassador Wang Min after the Vote at the UN General Assembly on the Draft Resolution on Syria,” Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the UN, February 16, 2012, http://www.china-un.org/eng/hyyfy/t905816.htm, accessed June 2013.

[54]          Yun Sun, “Syria: What China has learned from its Libya experience,” Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 152 (27 February 2012), p. 1.

[55]          Ibid.

[56]          Michael D. Swaine, “Chinese Views of the Syrian Conflict,” p. 6.

[57]          European Parliament, Directorate-General for External Policies, Policy Department “The positions of Russia and China at the UN Security Council in the light of recent crises,” March 2013 (EP/EXPO/B/SEDE/FWC/2009-1/Lot1/43+44), p. 13.

[58]          Voting Record on S/RES/1973, via unbisnet.un.org, accessed June 2013.

[59]          Michael D. Swaine, “Chinese Views of the Syrian Conflict,” p. 7.

[60]          George J. Gilboy and Eric Heginbotham, Chinese and Indian Strategic Behaviour: Growing Power and Alarm (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), p. 245.

[61]          Julie Jiang and Jonathan Sinton, “Overseas Investments by China’s National Oil Companies: Assessing the Drivers and Impact,” International Energy Agency Information Paper (February 2011), p. 39.

[62]          Geoffrey Kemp, The East Moves West: India, China and Asia’s Growing Presence in the Middle East (Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2010), pp. 73-79. Kemp does however make the argument that despite the historic ties in times of a crisis between the U.S. and Iran it would be highly unlikely that China would step up for Iran and the more likely scenario would be Chinese rhetoric for their “friend”.  The argument that the Chinese foreign policy is driven by the need to secure overseas resources is also made by: Timothy R. Heath,“What Does China Want? Discerning the PRC’s National Strategy,” Asian Security, Vol. 8, Issue 1, pp. 64.

[63]          European Parliament, Directorate-General for External Policies, Policy Department “The positions of Russia and China at the UN Security Council in the light of recent crises,” March 2013 (EP/EXPO/B/SEDE/FWC/2009-1/Lot1/43+44), p. 13.

[64]          The statement that China has intervened in other countries before is in no way meant judgmental as every country has a legit interest in upholding its national interest with all foreign policy tools that are available. It is just a statement made to counter the general conviction that China has a strict policy on non-interventionism, which it upholds above everything else.

[65]          Wuthnow, p. 88.

[66]          The term “soft power” derives from Joseph Nye’s “Soft Power,” Foreign Policy, No. 80 (Autumn, 1990), pp. 153-171 and refers to the ability of affecting the actions of others through the attraction of a country’s soft power, e.g. culture, ideology etc. Nye did however criticize lately that the Chinese approach to soft power is wrong as the government should not be the main instrument of soft power as this takes away the credibility of this approach and makes it seem more like propaganda. More in Nye’s article “What China and Russia Don’t Get About Soft Power,” Foreign Policy, April 29, 2013, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/04/29/what_china_and_…don_t_get_about_soft_power?print=yes&hidecomments=yes&page=full, accessed June 2013.

[67]          Geoffrey Kemp, The East Moves West: India, China and Asia’s Growing Presence in the Middle East (Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2010), p. 66.

[68]          Tania Branigan describes the development of the Chinese attitude towards the rebels and the Chinese interest in Libya in her article “China looks to protect its assets in a post-Gaddafi Libya,” The Guardian, 23 August 2011.

[69]          Jonas Parello-Plesner, “China’s Desert Dance around Libya,” China-US Focus, 27 October 2011, http://www.chinausfocus.com/slider/china’s-desert-dance-around-libya/, accessed June 2013.

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