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As War Begins in Libya, China Must Decide Where to Stand

Libya Chinese Protest Slogan

As America embarks on its war in Libya, the globe remains locked in furious argument over whether intervention is in fact merited in the divided nation. Though the U.S.-led coalition — which includes NATO allies Britain, Italy, and France — has publicly announced their intention of ousting Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, commentators have criticized the military decision, seen merely as an excuse to silence a vocal anti-Western dictatorship with little regard for the lives of civilians and rebel fighters. Doug Bandow of The Cato Institute writes,

[G]etting involved in someone else’s civil war is a curious way to promote stability. A simple no fly zone, especially at this stage, wouldn’t likely alter the balance of power on the ground. Hence the more expansive resolution and French action against Libyan ground forces. But this means the allies are taking sides in a civil war, not protecting civilians. The ultimate objective is to take Tripoli, not safeguard Benghazi.

Among those which abstained from voting on a no fly-zone are the BRIC nations. China, using the mouthpiece of The People’s Daily, accused the U.S. of “breaking international rules and courting new turmoil in the Middle East,” comparing the intervention in Libya to the 2003 Iraq invasion. “The blood-soaked tempests that Iraq has undergone for eight years and the unspeakable suffering of its people are a mirror and a warning,” noted the paper.

On the record, China did not veto the resolution outright because of regional support. It’s important to note, however, that Beijing has not exactly been on the receiving end of Libya’s hospitality as of late. In 2006, the disgraced Chen Shui-bian, formerly president of Taiwan, was received in Libya by members of Gaddafi’s family in a high-profile visit which implied Taiwan’s sovereignty. In 2009, China’s state-owned oil and gas producer CNPC was blocked from acquiring Verenex, an oil company with assets in Libya. Most recently, the violent unrest in Libya left 30,000 Chinese nationals caught in the crossfire. According to the Financial Times, CNPC and other firms reported that their facilities had been attacked. What ensued was an massive evacuation that likely left Beijing’s coffers less plentiful than before.

Still, China’s has enjoyed a fruitful relationship with Libya, including $6.6 billion in bilateral trade and a 2009 railway agreement which would lay tracks between Tripoli and Sirte for $1.7 billion. Residual anti-Western, anti-imperialist sentiment appears to tilt the balance in Libya’s favor. The following conversation that the folks over at ChinaGeeks have translated, originally posted by journalist Zhang Wen, illustrates this perspective quite — and fairly, might I add:

Me: Uncle, Gaddafi was using planes to kill the common people who opposed him, he killed a lot of people!

Uncle: That’s Gaddafi’s personal business, what right do foreigners have to interfere? Our foreign ministry spokesperson, Yu-whatever-her-name-is, said that Libya’s affairs should be decided by the Libyan people.

Me: This isn’t a private matter. If the ruler of a country is massacring his own people, international society needs to step in. The U.N. has already passed two resolutions on this.

Uncle: Then why aren’t other countries sending troops? It’s just the Yanks, Frenchies, and Brits, it’s like the Eight Nation Alliance all over again … shut up about human rights and sovereignty, and don’t bring up democracy either. Let me ask you, why is no one paying any attention to Bahrain? The Yanks haven’t sent troops, but aren’t there many common people being killed there as well?

(Note: I have altered the translation, replacing “American … French … British devils” with what I believe are less aggressive — and more correct — terms.)

Hypocrisy is abound, certainly, but China’s government has not rised above the fray. According to Ministry of Tofu, left-leaning bloggers accused CCTV Channel 4 of presenting an image of Libyans holding up a flag that read “Vive le France” (“Long live France”) with a voiceover that suggested “this is Libyan outcry against coalition forces’ bombing of the city.”

Vive le France Libya

This time, however, protestors have held up a slogan which Chinese viewers can read for themselves (pictured at top of post). In simplified Chinese, the flag plainly reads: “Muammar Gaddafi is a liar.” One Sina microblogger proclaimed,

Today the Libyan people are worried, and directly use Chinese to write their slogan. Let’s see you lie now! You make life difficult for the Libyan people, who are already busy with the chaos in their country, and now have to learn Chinese.

今天利比亚人急了,直接用汉语写标语,看你还怎么撒谎!真难为利比亚人了,本来国家乱得忙不过来,还得现学汉语。

Libya Chinese Protest Slogan

Discuss: Is the military intervention of Libya justified? What do you think China’s motivations in criticizing the war are?


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