Will China fill the US’s void?
If Trump’s America shrinks humanitarian support, China might seek a bigger role in world affairs
CHINA’S latest “white paper” is another sign of the country’s decision to play a larger role in global affairs. It comes after statements from US president-elect Donald Trump that suggest he will lead his country in retreat from internationalism. Can China fill a potential void in humanitarianism?
Some think China’s internal dynamics limit its ability to become a humanitarian leader but there are indications it might raise its profile in certain fields, such as peacekeeping and climate change.
“The white paper focuses on development but it does not promise anything about democracy, personal freedom and human rights,” said Xu Guoki, a history professor at the University of Hong Kong. China’s unwillingness to promote those ideals at home undermined its ability to take a lead role in global affairs.
“How can the Chinese government step up its role in international humanitarianism, when it does not dare to denounce non-democratic regimes which are largely responsible for global crises in humanitarianism?” he asked.
Kerry Brown, director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College in London, said: “For sure, China wants a stronger and more dominant regional role. But it does not want to have huge responsibilities in the wider world foisted on it.”
However, he noted, much depends on what the new US administration does.
“The Trump presidency (position) on climate change and a number of other areas does push China towards having no choice but to take a more active role in international issues, because of the space left by a more inward looking, isolationist US,” said Brown.
Many questions remain about what Trump’s foreign policy will look like, although his forays into international affairs so far have not been reassuring to many. Also worrying are Trump’s statements on climate change. He referred to global warming in a 2012 tweet as a concept “created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive”.
Trump has suggested he would withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change.
In its white paper, China said it had made “significant efforts in moving the Paris Agreement on greenhouse gas emission mitigation toward adoption and taking effect,” according to government news agency Xinhua.
The white paper included a section on peacekeeping, which is China’s most high-profile humanitarian contribution. China pledged to continue scaling up its commitment of troops and funding.
“In the coming five years, China will train 2 000 peacekeeping personnel for other countries, launch 10 mine sweeping aid programmes, provide 100 million US dollars of non-reimbursable military aid to the African Union, and allocate part of the China-UN Peace and Development Fund to support UN peacekeeping operations,” reported Xinhua.
Peacekeeping serves multiple purposes for China, said Brown.
“Taking part in peacekeeping missions does help to at least give China some chance to ensure it is doing as much as it can to pacify and stabilise regions, many of which figure as trade or resource suppliers. This is also a relatively good, and inexpensive, way of China demonstrating global citizenship and improving its international image.”
Yun Sun, a China expert at Washington’s Stimson Centre, said China contributed to peacekeeping to insert itself into the global balance of power.
“Since the UN is a multilateral platform, China sees it as the most legitimate, and an effective, way of control over Western unilateralism or military intervention,” she said.
Peacekeeping aside, China has not so far been a major aid donor. If the next US administration does pull back significantly from providing humanitarian support, it could open the door for China to play a bigger role – but only if Beijing saw benefits.
“China is not a purely altruistic player. It is a self-interested one,” said Brown. – Irin
CONTRIBUTION: Peacekeeping troops from China, deployed by the UN Mission in South Sudan, patrol in Juba.