PROFESSOR RICHARD MILLER: Hi, my name is Dick Miller. I teach in the Philosophy department, and I'm director of the program on Ethics and Public Life. Today's speaker in the EPL series on the rise of China is Rosemary Foot. She is Professor of International Relations at Oxford, and a highly influential voice in shedding light on the interactions between the United States and China, and on China's role and the role of the United States in both responding to and shaping international norms and institutions. Her great influence has been conveyed in such books as Rights Beyond Borders, an investigation of China's situation in the human rights regime and its enormous evolution over the years, which provides one of the themes of today's lecture. And a very recent book in 2011 with Andrew Walter, China, the United States, and the Global Order. I'll leave the rest of the introduction to Allen Carlson from the Government department, and then Rosemary Foot will talk on China and Humanitarian Intervention-- Beijing's Influence on the Responsibility to Protect. Allen?
PROFESSOR ALLEN CARLSON: I remember when David Ken was here we did this too, and that time you also took most of what my remarks were going to be. So I'll see what I can come up with. Except to add that Rosemary is also currently dean of her college at Oxford, and has been-- on a personal level-- a host to me twice on most recent visits to England. And was a very, very gracious host. And one of the things that was quite remarkable about it was when I was a graduate student finishing up my dissertation, Rosemary's 2000 book, Rights Beyond Borders, was very influential to me. I was trying to develop what I thought was a fairly sophisticated argument about China's involvement in the international human rights system, and it seemed no one making any similar claims whatsoever. And I came across Rosemary's book and thought, well maybe I'm at least not entirely crazy. We were saying sort of the same things.
What's been remarkable over the past 10 years is how she's followed up on that earlier research, looking more broadly at the question of global governance. And I think for this series, and more broadly for the world, there's probably nothing more significant than thinking about the way that China is being shaped by international institutions and vise versa. And particularly in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, or ongoing financial crisis, there are very few scholars who have kind of looked at the impact of those events on what China's doing and what's going on in those organizations.
And this 2011 book, which I had the pleasure of reviewing for Political Science Quarterly, China, the United States, and Global Order, is really one of the first that makes an attempt to make sense of these issues. And does so in a very richly empirical and theoretically informed manner. It was actually named, as Rosemary told me yesterday, by Foreign Policy as one of the favorite reads of 2011. British authors don't oftentimes make it onto the FP list, so this is quite an accomplishment. And I'm sure that she'll draw on much of this work during her talk today. So let's welcome her to Cornell.
PROFESSOR ROSEMARY FOOT: Well thanks to Professor Miller and Professor Carlson for a very generous introduction. And I would add that I've drawn on Allen's work a great deal as well, especially his book on Unifying China, Integrating with the World. And then his later work on More Than Just Saying No. That's a very apt title for that piece in new directions in China's foreign relations. And so I'm very pleased to be here with both professors, and with all of you. Thank you very much for coming today.
As Allen has suggested, this particular topic is it a longstanding interest of mine. And it does speak to this broader theme about integrating with the world, and how one does that. And how one actually defines the norms, the central norms, of global order. And I'll be doing some of that today.
I wanted to start by saying something about Syria, and especially about the Chinese vetoes of UN Security Council condemnatory resolutions. Because of that, you might think there isn't very much to say about China humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect civilians from abuse. We could simply conclude that China supports a very absolutist version of sovereignty, of the meaning of sovereignty. Noninterference in internal affairs is its stated and actual position. And that whatever these governments might be doing to their own populations, China has adopted a sort of a hands off policy.
But there is more to say about the Chinese perspective on these issues, which is just as well. Otherwise, we'd all have to go off for an early dinner or something like that. So I am going to keep you here, I hope, for about 45 minutes while I talk about the trends and directions in Chinese foreign policy.
I'm going to come back to the Syrian case at the end, say a little bit more about that. But I will be concluding that despite movement-- trends, changes in Chinese behavior-- it can be characterized as very conservative in its approach to these issues. It is suspicious of Western motives in this area of policy. It prefers external intervention in other states to be based on state consent. And it has begun to develop a position-- again, not in all cases, but in the majority of cases it's looking for strong endorsement of interventionist practice from relevant regional organizations.
So I'm going to look at these trends in behavior. And I'm going to argue that China has made a modest shift in its position on humanitarian intervention over time. And I'll need to show that, so there'll be an empirical part where I provide some examples of that modest shift in behavior. And I also need to explain it. But I also want to explain why the adaptation has occurred, but nevertheless only goes so far. It's a constrained, it's a restricted adaptation on this particular topic area.
I want to show some other things, as well. I want to demonstrate that China, in fact, is not far removed from the international consensus on this idea of responsibility to protect. And on the ways of making this particular concept operational in the global system, it's not far removed from the international consensus. And I suppose a central message of quite a lot of the work that I've done is that sometimes China's behavior in international politics is measured against an idealized understanding of international behavior in various policy fields. And perhaps this is more so with respect to China than it is with respect to other states. So I want to say something about that in this talk today as well.
I'm going to start by not talking about China for about the first 10 minutes or so. I wanted to say something about the meaning of responsibility to protect, which I'm now going to start calling R2P. I want to say something about how it originated as an idea, how it's evolved over time. And then I will start to turn to an investigation of the role that China has played in the construction of that concept and its evolution.
So let's begin, then, with the meaning of R2P. I would describe it in brief as a global norm, and not a legal requirement. It's a norm that may be consolidating as an idea, or it may actually be in retreat. There is no consensus in the literature, or even among practitioners, about the extent to which this norm has more than a rather tenuous purchase on our behavior in international politics. But it's an important development in our debate on the meaning of sovereignty. What we actually mean in the contemporary period when we talk about sovereignty in relation to states and individuals.
R2P was endorsed unanimously in September 2005 at the largest gathering of heads of state and government in the UN. It produced-- that particular gathering-- produced something called a World Summit Outcome Document, where leaders professed-- and I'll just quote them-- "that each individual state has a responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity." And this was declared to be a responsibility that entails the prevention of these crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means.
R2P also has what's referred to as three pillars associated with it. That is every state-- the first pillar-- every state has the responsibility to protect its populations from the four mass atrocity crimes that are specified in this document. The second pillar is that the wider international community has the responsibility to encourage and assist individual states in meeting that responsibility of protection. That is, we and states in the international community and international organizations are supposed to help states build the capacity to protect their populations from the four crimes specified in this document, and to assist those states which are under stress before crises and conflict actually breaks out.
And so in that particular final formulation, what it seems to be saying is that we need some sort of early warning system. And we need some sort of interventionist practice in order to prevent something like the Rwandan genocide. So we need to be able to investigate a state's social fabric, if you like, in order to prevent wide scale abuse.
Pillar three, perhaps the most controversial of all, is if a stage is manifestly failing to protect its populations and it's discovered that diplomatic humanitarian and other peaceful means aren't doing the job to prevent these instances of abuse, then the international community, through the UN Security Council and on a case by case basis, should be prepared to take collective action under Charter 7 of the UN Charter-- under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. In other words, it's mandatory. And it also specifies that it should take this action on a case by case basis in conjunction with relevant regional organizations.
So R2P, in focusing on these four egregious human rights crimes, in some senses has reinforced the idea of universal human rights and a common humanity. It's developing the idea of responsible sovereignty. It's developing, as I say, this idea of an early warning system. But as this debate has continued, as the concept has evolved over time, it's come to take on strong state based rather than individual based elements, I would suggest. It's come to endorse the view that all things being equal, populations will face a reduced risk of harm within well-governed, capable, and responsible states. And I don't think any of us, perhaps, would argue against that. That sounds right. It's not controversial. It's just that we would ask the question, perhaps, how many individuals, how many peoples, actually live within well-governed, capable, and responsible states.
It also undermines, for political theorists, it undermines the idea of a cosmopolitan world order. It's actually, again, referencing back to the individual state as the source of protection rather than the idea that we each bear a responsibility to another because we share a common humanity. R2P also sets up a very high bar for intervention. It doesn't refer to large scale killing or serious violations of international humanitarian law. It refers to the four crimes that I referred to earlier-- genocide and so on, because they were related to existing international law. In other words, they're already on the international legal agenda. And R2P gives the state in question a primary responsibility to protect.
R2P doesn't set out criteria for intervention. We could, again, draw on international humanitarian law. We could talk about seriousness of the threat. We could talk all about last resort, proportional means, balance of consequences, and the like. But neither China, Russia, nor the United States wanted criteria to be specified in advance-- the criteria for intervention by external forces. They wanted to consider each instance of humanitarian catastrophe on a case by case basis.
So for all the potential associated with this idea of R2P, it hasn't really helped states decide what you should do where there is an anticipated or an actual use of a permanent members veto in the UN Security Council. If that veto stops the Security Council from acting in cases of supreme humanitarian need, what's the next step? I don't think it's helped really deal with that.
The global consensus behind R2P is that the threshold needs to be set at a very high level, both in deciding whether there should be an international response to atrocities and when a state should be judged to have actually failed in offering protection for its citizenry. And as I said, the attention has been directed towards prevention of abuse rather than forging an international response once abuses start occurring.
So how did we get here? A little bit more context before I finally turn to China. This World Summit Outcome document of 2005 is in many senses remarkable and revolutionary. The UN Charter refers to human rights, but it fails to contemplate the possible use of external intervention, including use of force, to address a humanitarian disaster. But over the course of the 1990s, the Security Council, of which China, of course, was a permanent member-- still is. Regularly demonstrated a willingness to recognize that humanitarian disasters were a threat to international peace and security.
This, if you like, is the revolutionary term that occurs in the 1990s. There are at least nine instances over the course of the 1990s where at least some humanitarian issue was brought to the table of the UN Security Council and formed part of the decision making environment in those particular interventions. And reference to Chapter 7 provisions of the UN Charter was also regularly made.
The problem was that in many senses over the course of the 1990s, the debate about these developments became very polarized. Polarized between two extremes-- one was the intervention had to involve coercive military means, or we do nothing at all. So some might wonder-- you do nothing at all, or you intervene with military force. And that meant that the ideas of humanitarian intervention over the course of the 1990s remained very controversial as an idea in world politics.
So it took a lot of nuanced discussion, a lot of debate on the part of what I think of as using Kathryn Sikkink's term, "norm entrepreneurs", if you like, to try to make this idea more acceptable. And especially after the Rwandan genocide, it was agreed that another Rwanda just could not be allowed to occur and nothing be done about it. Sovereignty had to mean more than simply sovereign equality or the recognition of the sovereign rights of other states.
And as you will remember, Kofi Annan was a very important figure in this particular debate. In several of his writings and speeches, particularly his September 1999 statement before the UN General Assembly, he emphasized that the global community just couldn't stand idly by and watch these atrocities occurring. That sovereignty had to be redefined to encompass the idea of individual sovereignty, and that the contemporary reading of the UN Charter, as he put it, meant that we were more than ever conscious that its aim is to protect individual human beings, not to protect those that abuse them.
Now, if you look at that September 1999 debate in the General Assembly, you'll see that a lot of delegations spoke out against him. He was clearly in advance of world opinion at that particular moment. And the argument are sort of fairly familiar ones. Big states like China, India, Brazil, and so on were critical of these ideas, but so were a number of other smaller states. And the argument-- a lot of the statements revolved around the idea that this meant military intervention by Western powers, and was simply a new form of colonialism. And so that particular debate had a lot to purchase and was difficult to shift.
Debates inside China at this point also emphasized this particular line. They talked about new forms of colonialism that were bound up with this concept. And some of the debates ignored what Annan and others were trying to do, which was to try to develop the idea that when you were responding to abuse inside states, you weren't necessarily only thinking about military intervention. You were actually thinking about non-coercive forms of intervention. You were thinking about mediation. You might be thinking about different forms of sanction, and so on. You might be thinking about the role of regional actors in organizing peace operations and the like.
But this kind of debate persisted, and there was clearly a sort of a strongly politicized element to it. Debates about the extent to which the application of the concept in the 1990s had been very selective. There was no sort of automaticity at all. It depended on interests of major powers, particularly Western powers.
But Beijing nevertheless, despite its wariness, was a participant in this particular debate leading to the 2005 World Summit Outcome document. And it's referenced R2P and R2P language since that time. So to give you some examples, in 2006 is accepted reference to R2P in the context of a debate about the protection of civilians in armed conflict. It sanctioned UN interventions in other states, sometimes for humanitarian reasons.
So despite-- and I'll give you more examples later on-- despite frequent references to state sovereignty and noninterference, it was caught up in this mood, in this tide of debate that was taking place across the 1990s and into the 2000s about what sovereignty meant in the contemporary era. And it was shoved some ways along the path. Alan's written about this. It adapted its position and understanding of the meaning of sovereignty.
At the same time, China was also able, because it participated in the debate, it was able to establish, if you like, certain discursive red lines. Others began to anticipate what China might say and do in that particular debate, and therefore would shape the resolutions or shape their statements on the understanding that they would like Chinese adherence. They would like China to sign up to these statements, but knew that they would have to couch it in particular language.
So there's a two way process-- China itself is shoved along a path that involves the redefinition of sovereignty, but it also is able to shape that environment of international debate.
These adaptations, as I've started to indicate, have come very gradually in the Chinese positions. And I don't want to exaggerate their scope or their significance, but I do want to suggest that change has occurred. And I think this change begins when China begins to be involved in peacekeeping operations in various of the UN peace operations. China began to develop a more positive attitude towards peace keeping operations from the 1980s, and steadily has increased its level of participation even as these operations have begun to take on very complex tasks inside particular societies. And they're very interventionist, these tasks.
Now, China tends to offer mainly police units, medical engineering components, not yet combat troops. Although there is discussion about that, combat forces as peacekeepers. These operations that it has been involved in involve tasks that go well beyond the idea that you're in there just to keep warring parties apart. The operational mandates of these peace operations over the course of the '90s and beyond are very intrusive in nature. They often establish conditions for the holding of elections, demobilization of forces, promotion of human rights, establishment of the rule of law, building of democratic and other institutions.
The peacekeeping operation of 1991 in El Salvador was the very first of the UN operations to have a Human Rights Division associated with it. But almost all peace operations since 1991 have kept the same structure.
And Beijing's involvement in these operations have become particularly intensive in the last 10 years. You may be familiar with an issue of international peacekeeping that's been wholly devoted to China and UN peace operations that's come out fairly recently. Again, some very interesting research about the forms of intervention, the types of arguments that are being used in China and beyond.
So China's increased its involvement something like 20-fold since 2000. It now has sort of peacekeeping training operations inside its own country. It offers training to others and the like. And it's had more personnel involved in these operations than other members of the UN Security Council. Most of them are involved in Africa, which of course has been over this period the region in greatest need.
Let me give you some specific examples of robust forms of intervention with humanitarian dimension, and of changes in Chinese rhetoric and behavior in reference to this. And I think these-- I mean, these examples are intended to suggest to you areas of modest change in Chinese behavior.
So China went along with others in 1992 in authorizing military action in Somalia under Chapter 7 provisions of the Charter. And it was remarkable in the sense that that enforcement mission was mandated to use all necessary means to establish, as soon as possible, a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations. The use of force, coercive military intervention, was justified solely to deal with, quote, "the magnitude of the human tragedy caused by the conflict in Somalia." And it's possible, again, that China's involvement there involves it in some kind of form of discursive entrapment, and influences its position as you move through the 1990s. China also supported the resolution on Haiti in 1993. Again, this is a resolution that refers to the incidence of humanitarian crises, including the mass displacements of population.
China was very critical of developments in Kosovo in 1999, because of the absence of Security Council agreement for that particular operation. But it didn't stop China from supporting the next major interventionist activity by the UN, and that was in reference to the robust intervention that occurred in East Timor in 1999-- same year as Kosovo.
There's no explicit reference in the UN Charter to the international administration of war torn territories, but this form of administration was established in East Timor in 1999 and permitted to exercise supreme executive, legislative, and judicial authority in the territory. Of course, it was a limited period in mind, but nevertheless the UN almost became an occupying power. One could think about it in that way. And China, again, didn't stand aside from this particular operation, but deployed a few civilian police to this very interventionist operation. It was a controversial operation, because it was a supreme executive authority inside this particular territory.
There have been, I'm sure that many of you will be thinking about, the instances where China has not supported UN Security Council sanctions at times of supreme humanitarian need. You think about the Burma case, for example. China even used its veto in January 2007, and that's the first time it used its veto since 1973, apart from resolutions that involved Taiwan. But again, having used that veto, international censure over its position on Burma meant that it tried to move in various other ways to, if you like, diffuse some of that criticism that occurred.
It toughened its line. It acquiesced in a condemnatory resolution at the UN Human Rights Council. It supported a UN Security Council statement, which is more authoritative than a press release, strongly deploring the military junta's violent tactics against peaceful demonstrators. It pressed the Burmese government to receive a special UN envoy. And it called for meaningful efforts by the regime to try and reconcile with domestic opposition groups and minority ethnic factions.
So Vise President Xi Jinping told Burmese leader at that time, Than Shwe, in December 2009, not that long ago, he hoped to see political stability, economic development, national reconciliation. I'm not trying to pretend here that this is the outcome we actually have in Burma at the moment, better political environment and certainly some form of national reconciliation. But nevertheless, there was a Chinese hand in attempting to move the Burmese government from its more obstructionist position.
Sudan is another and major controversial aspect of Chinese foreign policy. But again, in the mid 2000s you see some areas of flexibility as the humanitarian crisis unfolded in Darfur and as Chinese policy came under a great deal of international disapproval. What did it do? It abstained rather than vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that imposed targeted sanctions on four Sudanese officials. It stated that it endorsed the idea that those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law must be brought to justice. By September that year it started to put pressure on the Sudanese government to accept a hybrid United Nations African Union peacekeeping force in the country.
And when Hu Jintao visited Khartoum in February 2007, again he put pressure on his Sudanese counterpart to comply with this hybrid force deployment, and promised that China itself would also allow certain of its own forces to take part in this hybrid UN African Union mission.
Very unusually, in this particular instance, Beijing tried to engage some of the non-governmental organizations that were very critical of its stance over Sudan in an attempt to try to explain what it was doing with reference to this conflict. Of course China, is embroiled in the controversy over Sudan and South Sudan again at this current time, because of the increasing violence between the North and the newly independent South. And what it's tried to do in this instance is to get the two sides to try and stick to the memorandum of understanding that they have recently signed, which is a sort of a cooperation non-aggression pact under the guidance of the African Union High Level Implementation panel.
So what I'm trying to say is that noninterference in a strict form is extraordinarily difficult to sustain for any country, but including for China. Especially when you start to have global interests and perceived global influence, and when expectations are rising about the role that you will play in global diplomacy.
But as I said earlier, this isn't solely about the Chinese adapting to a global norm about a shift in an understanding of sovereignty. There is also Chinese agency here, and China has shaped the discursive and the behavioral environment in such a way as to try to make it more compatible with its preferences. It prefers an incremental and a very cautious approach. It has tried to ensure that cases that come before the UN Security Council are considered on a case by case basis in an attempt to prevent the establishment of precedent in UN behavior.
So in relation to Somalia, the example I gave of 1992, the Chinese subsequently argued that they had supported that resolution agreeing to intervention, because there was no responsible governmental authority actually in place to give consent. Or as one of my colleagues at Oxford University was actually told by China's ambassadorial team at the United Nations, they didn't veto because they thought that every death would be blamed on China. And anyway since the United States was going to lead this particular form of intervention, then maybe the Americans should learn by experience of being involved in an operation of this kind.
On Haiti, again China's argument here for supporting that intervention was that prior action on the part of the organization of the American states as well as the General Assembly provided the enabling context for that particular resolution to pass. East Timor was made easier for Beijing, because the Indonesian president at that time did, in fact, give consent. It was very grudging consent, very reluctant consent to the UN operation, but nevertheless it was something on the books there. And perhaps also by the fact that China hadn't recognized the Indonesian takeover of East Timor in the first place.
So what's the Chinese position? In sum, they've tried to find ways to sustain a definition of intervention that includes host state consent, even if that consent is grudging in its form. They prefer nonmilitary forms of intervention, and they will argue very strongly for those. And they want a prominent role for the UN Security Council. They don't want any circumvention of the UN Security Council.
And they've put this in what is a sort of an authoritative document of June 2005 on UN reform. I'm just going to quote from that. So in that document, they state when a massive humanitarian crisis occurs it's the legitimate concern of the international community to ease and diffuse that crisis. Any response should conform to the UN Charter, the opinions of the countries involved, and the regional organization should be respected. Wherever it involves enforcement actions-- in other words, military coercive means-- there should be prudence, as they call it, in the consideration of each case.
And I think that still represents a reasonable summary of the official preferred Chinese position. In March 2011 in Beijing when it explained its abstention rather than its veto of the UN Security Council resolution that set up the no fly zone in Libya, China's UN ambassador reiterated the need for the Charter to be respected, for the crisis to be ended through peaceful means, and his country's sensitivity to the request of the Arab League and the African Union for action to be taken.
Interestingly, though, it also voted in favor of a Security Council resolution authorizing a referral of the Libyan situation to the International Criminal Court. So straddling a number of interesting and difficult positions here.
So they've moved beyond a debate about an absolutist principle of state sovereignty and noninterference in internal affairs, and they've come to assess the conditions under which some form of involvement might be justified. And they've tried to lay down some ground rules involving the role of the UN Security Council, the role of regional organizations, the preference for host state consent, and the like. And they've definitely tried to slow the train of coercive intervention whenever and wherever it showed signs of picking up speed.
Let me turn a bit more specifically to R2P, because these prior involvements in peace operations have undoubtedly influenced the way its participated in that particular day debate and the way its come to understand and shape the meaning of R2P.
China began to circumscribe the application of intervention before the finalization of this 2005 World Summit Outcome document, arguing that the document needed to put emphasis on action designed to prevent abuses occurring in the first place. There was-- I'm sort of condensing a longish period of evolution for this concept of R2P.
In 2009 you get a UN General Assembly debate on the practical implementation of this concept of R2P. And again, Beijing's representatives tried to emphasize the compatibility between R2P and ideas of state sovereignty, noninterference. The government of a given state bears the primary responsibility to protect its citizens from abuse, Chinese diplomats typically argued. And they also stress that the R2P should only apply to the four crimes that are specified in the 2005 document, and that all peaceful means had to have been exhausted before coercive measures could be contemplated.
So it is quite a conservative voice in this particular UN debate, but it doesn't suggest that it wants to revise and unpick the 2005 consensus. And it's made relatively little attempt, apart from these statements from my discussions with others involved in this particular debate on R2P. It's made very few overt efforts to try to influence other delegations to support its positions. I mean, it's made its statements, but it hasn't necessarily lobbied hard behind the scenes to get others to support its position. Perhaps it doesn't need to lobby so hard, for reasons that I'll explain a bit later on.
So if you agree with me that there has been some modest change in China's position, how can we best explain this? It remains wary of R2P. It adheres to a version of human security that gives great emphasis to freedom from want than freedom from fear. But it has used the R2P formulation, and it does talk in its documents, in its official documents on UN reform, about the need for the international community to respond to humanitarian crises.
So it requires explanation, I think. And I'm going to make several points, but I think perhaps the first is the most important. And that is that China's position on R2P hasn't diverged too far from the international consensus on the idea. Because the R2P is debated against the backdrop of other powerful and related global norms, including self determination, sovereign equality, noninterference in internal affairs. These remain very powerful building blocks of international order as many states perceive it.
If you go back to the Libyan resolution itself, if you actually look at that resolution more closely than perhaps newspaper reports reflected, in establishing the no fly zone it referred to the norm of R2P, but it also said it was the responsibility of the Libyan authorities to protect the Libyan population. So again, an emphasis on the Libyan state itself as the primary bearer of this responsibility to protect.
And indeed, there's a whole host of instances over the course of the 1990s that we talk about as the era of humanitarian intervention and so on, where the idea of trying to obtain some host state role, host state consent in these operations is still in place.
Second point, perhaps Beijing has also been comforted by the realization that liberal states have lost authority as a result of the 2003 intervention in Iraq, as well as the Western involvement in human rights abuses, whether that's Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, or wherever. Rendition on the part of European countries and the like.
The Libyan intervention also became more controversial, and to some degree began to lose its legitimacy, once NATO action appeared to expand beyond the mandate to enforce a no fly zone and became more about the overthrow of the regime of Gaddafi.
I also think that China's policies-- a third point-- have been influenced by the institutional setting in which these negotiations about R2P, about intervention, have taken place. Over a very long period, Chinese analysts and officials have talked about the United Nations as an authoritative body that to some extent represents what we might call an international procedural consensus in world politics. There's no other institution in global politics that has that status. Whatever you might think about the UN's failings, its structure and its institutional makeup gives it a sort of a procedural consensus that makes it in a special place in international politics.
So in that sense, it is difficult for-- it's a choice and it's a debate inside China when it decides whether to use a veto, to vote in favor, or to abstain on these kinds of issues, even when humanitarian issues might be at the root. The institutional design of the Security Council gives both an authority to the body, but it is also reassuring for states because it's a hierarchical body in that the permanent members have veto power, as you know. So the actual veto, or the anticipatory veto, can be a very important vehicle for states as they contemplate Security Council resolutions and Security Council interventions. You can block them entirely. You may not need to do that if you make it clear where your lines in the sand have been drawn.
Other members of the Asia-Pacific region have also, of course, participated in this debate on R2P. And I think also are likely-- I'm inferring this-- are likely to have had some influence on China's position in this particular debate. In 2009, again, China placed itself quite close to the center ground of Asia-Pacific opinion on R2P. There were states within the Asia-Pacific region that gave R2P a much stronger endorsement. A country like Indonesia, for example, gave the idea very strong endorsement. But there were others that were more qualified in their particular stances, including the position of Malaysia, including the position of others of China's neighbors.
And given the Chinese emphasis on the significance of regional support for UN actions, again I think these official regional attitudes would have been part of the landscape that would have influenced where China ended up in this position on R2P.
A final point I want to make is the position of the United States. Because again, as many of you in this room know, the Chinese often contemplate where they stand on issues in reference to where the United States itself stands. And I think in some ways they see the United States as providing China with a certain amount of cover in this debate for R2P. So although the US is strongly, sometimes negatively, sometimes positively, associated with interventionist practices, sometimes for humanitarian motivations, sometimes not. Its failure to act in Rwanda in 1994, its very circumspect attitude to the Sudan in the mid 2000s, and even more recently a reluctance to become too directly and overtly involved in the Arab Spring suggests, again, no automaticity on the part of the United States in reference to R2P.
Certainly there's likely to be a lot more domestic pressure for the United States to take a form of action, but nevertheless there is a strong desire within the country, within the executive branch, to retain strategic autonomy over decisions that may involve the use of force. So the United States, like China as I said earlier, was very reluctant to see any attempted codification of the circumstances under which you might intervene in the affairs of another nation.
And although the underlying motivations of the US and China might be rather different, the United States has also put quite a lot of emphasis on the preventative aspects of R2P. About building state capacity in order to prevent abuses from occurring in the first place. During an early draft of the World Summit Outcome document-- so prior to 2005 at that important global meeting-- the US delegation to the United Nations, backed by George W Bush, objected to language that suggested the UN Security Council had a legal obligation to intervene when atrocities were occurring. They would not sign up to the notion that it was a legal requirement that intervention should recur.
So I think with these sorts of reasons the Chinese have found that they can maneuver, that they can find a degree of flexibility, and adapt their position to ideas such as R2P. But it's modest change. It's incremental. It's cautious. It's circumspect. And I think here we probably need to turn to a whole set of other reasons to explain that modesty, or prudence, as the Chinese might call it.
And for those of you that may know some of my work, unsurprising I start with China's domestic concerns. Concerns about political, social stability inside the country, and fear that dissent could get out of hand inside China. The fear of contagion, if you like. The fear that it too could be the subject of international debate and condemnation. And I think that's affected its attitude towards the Arab Spring, toward social media, towards events in Libya, and more recently in Syria.
I don't personally believe that China actually fears that it would be the subject of an international intervention of a coercive kind, but rather that it will lose control of dissent and be the subject of international disapproval. More is spent inside China on its internal security budget than on its external security budget. So this notion of sustaining stability, containing unrest, preventing obviously threats to the overthrow of the one party system is very, very important, and a lens through which it views ideas such as R2P. So this, if you like, promotes a very cautious and circumspect attitude.
Secondly, I think there's concern, too, that R2P in its implementation might be more about regime change than about protecting civilians from abuse. It might be more about US democracy promotion than actually about responding to humanitarian need. And that mandates, once they are agreed-- so UN mandates, once they are agreed. Get / and it's actually quite difficult to stop that happening, especially true of any kind of use of force actually, but it's true in this particular instance as well.
The other thing that the Chinese do is they promote what one could think of as a consequentialist line of argument. That military intervention would actually make matters worse, that instances of human rights abuse will expand as a result of military intervention for humanitarian purposes. There will be more instability inside countries as a result of those coercive forms of intervention.
Now the motives, again, for making this particular argument may be suspect for some of you, but it has again, it has a fairly firm grounding in political theory and in branches of international law. On Syria, for example, the Chinese support the line that Kofi Annan's negotiating mission needs more time. It needs time. It's a complex environment in which he is operating. It's going to take a long time before he can forge any kind of brokered settlement to this particular crisis.
So China has emphasized the prevention mandate, the building of state capacity, the state's responsibility for protecting its citizens. But this position, as I've tried to suggest, is not too far away from the way R2P has evolved in its entirety. In other words, this position that the Chinese have landed up in is not too far away from the international consensus on how R2P should be interpreted. So those three pillars that I talked about in the beginning-- the first pillar about the state responsibility to protect its civilians, the second pillar about building state capacity so that abuse does not occur. These are the two issues that have received predominant exploration as the debate, as the international debate, on R2P has advanced.
So this is the framework. Let me, in the last couple of minutes, let me say this is the framework through which you need to think about the Syrian issue that we are reading about in the newsprint and on the internet and so on. And it's the basis for China's justifications for non-action and its vetoes of February this year.
The first veto occurred in reference to a UN resolution that urged the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to step down. China again argued that the United Nations needed more time for negotiations to bear fruit. Is this simply a cover for inaction? Yes, in many ways, it is a cover. But its also derived from these fears that I referred to. Fears that this is really about regime change, about US style democracy promotion. And about mandates starting in limited form-- no fly zones-- but then becoming extended in other areas.
Perhaps without the extension of the Libyan mandate, as China saw it anyway, perhaps there would have been no veto of the Syrian resolution. Obviously that's a counter-factual, but it's worth contemplation.
So that's its position. But it knows, again, it knows it cannot leave it there. It knows that as a member of the UN Security Council, as a self-designated responsible great power, as a country that now has a series of very complex interests in the Middle East, it can't leave it there. It can't just sit back and take the criticism.
So I would argue that what it's doing is sort of trying to find a way to explain or justify its position and hedge its bets, because none of us know what the future will bring in political terms for the regime and security. So it's set up some lines of communication with the Syrian opposition, and has invited certain of the Syrian opposition forces to come to Beijing. It's called for an end to violence, and abstained on a UN General Assembly resolution calling on Syria to implement the Arab League's proposed solution to the crisis.
Now of course, that resolution doesn't have the same authority as a Security Council resolution, nevertheless it was an important resolution because it strongly condemned-- let me quote it "strongly condemned the continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities." China has also strongly backed, as I said a moment ago, Kofi Annan's negotiating mission. And it's engaged in a round of diplomatic meetings in the Middle East to try to explain its position to other members of the Arab League.
Final point, what does this all mean for R2P? I think it means it's an idea that's still evolving, that isn't consolidated, still being defined. It's still this oxymoron about humanitarian war, as one of my colleagues at Oxford refers to it. China's position, as I've said, not too far away from its Asian neighbors. Perhaps at the conservative end of the spectrum, but not a real outlier. Not too far away from most of the other bricks. Russia, if anything, on Syria of course has taken a harder line than the Chinese.
So the question that faces Western liberal governments with robust attitudes towards intervention in Syria-- the question remains who them, will they circumvent the UN Security Council? Not a good idea, because of the impact that has on de-legitimizing operations of this kind. They have to think about arming the opposition in Syria. Again, there's a serious debate to be had about that. Not a good idea if you're concerned about the escalation of violence maybe.
They have to think about ways of toughening the current sanctions on the current government in Syria. And they have to think about ways of supporting Kofi Annan's mission.
That's not too far away, then, from what China would be debating as well, with a preference for those ideas or sanctions as a last resort. Support for the Kofi Annan negotiating mission. Hedging your bets by condemning through certain forms of statement talking to the opposition as well as to the Syrian authorities. So a degree of flexibility, limited in form, but not a fast and absolutist interpretation of state sovereignty and noninterference. So I'll leave it there.
PROFESSOR RICHARD MILLER: Would you like to call on people or--
PROFESSOR ROSEMARY FOOT: Yeah, do you want to do that?
PROFESSOR RICHARD MILLER: So we have about half an hour for questions. Are there any? Yes?
AUDIENCE: Thank you very much, Rosemary. It was a really thought provoking speech. And I have some further deeper questions that are triggered by a very stimulating presentation. I think from listening to you I can really feel something I haven't felt for a long time. That China is really very uncomfortable with its position, both domestically and internationally, with this kind of assisting people in the national community dominated by a whole set of laws and values and [INAUDIBLE] expressions that are not in China's [INAUDIBLE].
I would like to ask you to comment on two aspects of what I feel. First, domestic. You mentioned-- I compliment you and am highly in line with your effort to try to begin with the kind of domestic challenges and dilemmas. But let me ask you to comment on this, because it seems that the Chinese attitude is more sovereignty in their reflection of the Chinese leadership's understanding of the legitimacy challenge. And the venerability of it's own representation of values and norms towards domestic issues. Because without the kind of protection of a more solid definition of sovereign, that venerability will be more exposed. That's my question one. I would like to get one more comment.
And then international. It seems that this is exactly the kind of paradoxical situation that the Chinese authorities are facing. Is China an insider, or is China an outsider? It seems that China very much is willing to be an insider, because an insider, again, is about norms and codes. And values. China virtually has no alternative to present-- like when the Cold War was still in force and this subject caused communist more damage, which can present an alternative. But China today does not have that. But if China, on the other hand, does not feel very comfortable, and certainly still feels at times alienated by the norms and codes of the existing community.
And the result of it is something presented-- in expression and representation it seems that China is very close to the consensus. But in nature, it is still very much not a part of it. Do you feel this way? I would like to get your comment.
PROFESSOR ROSEMARY FOOT: Yeah. OK. Shall I-- I'll deal with that? Yeah. Thank you. Very interesting set of comments and questions. And this uncomfortableness, yes, is there. Let me start by saying that in actuality-- I mean one of the messages, I suppose, that I'm trying to say is that in this particular instance and in other instances, China has actually been part of the process. It has been part of-- because it's now been in the United Nations, you know, 40 years now. They took part in this debate over the course of the 1990s and then leading up to the development of this R2P idea.
It has actually helped to shape that environment. But you touch on something really important, I think, and that is that there's still a sense in which-- despite being part of a sort of-- within an international consensus on some of these ideas, despite having been present at the creation, if you like, of some of these particular norms, it's nevertheless the assumption is that it hasn't quite reached the acceptance level that it desires. That somehow or other, the norm actually escaped it in some way. The interpretation of the norm escapes it. Escapes its position.
And in that sense, that the uncomfortableness, in a curious way, should not be present. But is present because of the expectation that it's always kind of maybe running to catch up, or there's a particular interpretation of the norm that takes a dominant position in terms of international media reports or in terms of understandings among a particular group of countries that are of importance to China. So in some senses it feels that it's sort of running to catch up.
So I agree with you. There are lots of paradoxes here. One thing that you also say, which I think is very interesting, is that this has something to do with the legitimacy challenge that China itself faces, the Chinese leadership itself faces. And I think what you mean, but correct me if I'm wrong, that if R2P has come to mean that a state is responsible for protecting its own citizens, for protecting their livelihoods, their rights, to protect them from their individual security and the like, that in some senses even in this state-centric form of the R2P interpretation, the Chinese are being measured against that.
So even though it's a preferred form in terms of the understanding of R2P and sovereignty, that also raises expectations on the part of the domestic population about what the Chinese government is able to do in terms of forms of protection. That's a very important point, I think, and very well taken. And it's something that I could very usefully, actually, add to the argument here. So thank you very much for that.
AUDIENCE: I have a question. It's a moral one, but of course we're talking about acts of large scale violence, better be a powerful moral justification. Isn't China right when it comes to the veto of the Security Council resolutions on Syria and the conversion of the Libyan intervention into de facto regime change?
PROFESSOR ROSEMARY FOOT: Regime change?
AUDIENCE: Yeah, and the-- of course, a lot of people are going to be killed, especially given the force protection that will involve lots of firepower from the air, gasoline is going to be thrown on the flames. And efforts made by outside forces, inspiring nationalist outrage to acquire a settlement, so there's a-- there's a civil war in Syria, in which there are legitimate fears on the part of ethnic and religious groups on both sides. Isn't that the sort of deadly operations that requires informed consent by the people who's lives are at stake that hasn't been given in Syria.
PROFESSOR ROSEMARY FOOT: Yes. I mean, it is a very difficult one. And that's why I sort of refer to, in a sense, that that debate is not resolved. It may be that, you know, another Rwanda should not be allowed to occur. That human rights violations, the loss of life that is going on inside Syria is obviously to be condemned. But there is a consequentialist argument that you have raised and that they have raised. And as I say, there all groundings in moral philosophy that would make that particular case.
But on the other hand, you know, there is a genuine debate among both philosophers as well as among politicians about whether this scale of death and destruction, the use of force against their own civilians by the Syrian authorities, whether again we just stand back and say, well we would just make things worse if we intervene to any degree. Or whether we have to find the tools in order to express our condemnation of those individual acts of civilian atrocity that are occurring inside the country.
So I don't think it's an easy argument to either adopt your position that they may well be right, or to stand aside and say, you know, OK then we accept that because this is not on the scale of Rwanda-- it's 8,000 that have been killed so far. You know, the consequences will be that much worse if we intervene. I don't think it's an easy one. I'm looking, I suppose, for a series of tools that can somehow continue to express our outrage that governments can act like this in reference to their civilian populations, but at the same time not make the situation worse.
PROFESSOR RICHARD MILLER: Yes, Allen.
PROFESSOR ALLEN CARLSON: That's a great question, I think, because it's not one that people feel China has asked.
PROFESSOR ROSEMARY FOOT: Yeah.
PROFESSOR ALLEN CARLSON: We tend to actually operate on the assumption, complicit normally, that the Chinese are probably wrong--
PROFESSOR ROSEMARY FOOT: Yes.
PROFESSOR ALLEN CARLSON: And the argument, or the discussion, that takes place ad nauseum, so it appears, but I'm sure [INAUDIBLE] of policy of what the best approach is to bring them more into the fold. Right? But it's fascinating to come from the opposite side. That maybe the arguments that they're making have some--
PROFESSOR ROSEMARY FOOT: Validity, yes.
PROFESSOR ALLEN CARLSON: That they're not purely utilitarian, self-serving. So I guess the first part of the question after his comments are, so what measures does the West, or do the norm entrepreneurs take to try to create more space or try to become more actively involved? Is there anything more that could be done?
PROFESSOR ROSEMARY FOOT: You mean in this particular case, or in general?
PROFESSOR ALLEN CARLSON: More broadly.
PROFESSOR ROSEMARY FOOT: More broadly.
PROFESSOR ALLEN CARLSON: More is the R2P case a good example of give and take which would move things in the direction of creating a framework for making humanitarian intervention something more than ad hoc, and China is OK with it. So that's an--
PROFESSOR ROSEMARY FOOT: It's an example. Yes. Yes.
PROFESSOR ALLEN CARLSON: What more could be done? And then the second question is one of my own that relates to [INAUDIBLE] in this same field. And you presented a nice story, one that I actually tend to agree with. He gave a set of data points arguing that there's essentially a cumulative effect of this involvement which has pulled China in and produced those divisions.
The counter argument, though, is all of these-- they say it themselves, they're not precedent setting. And so there are these singular sort of examples that if one was to be a more far-sighted realist, they'd say none of it matters, because in the end, when push comes to shove and something like Syria comes up where they feel it's cutting a little bit closer to the bone in regards to national interest, then they say, you know, we said yes, but what we really meant is no.
So the bulk of those questions I guess relate to what the point of the intersection is between China and the rest of the world.
PROFESSOR ROSEMARY FOOT: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, R2P is a very good-- it is an interesting example of where space has been made for the perceptions and ideas of other states, other important states. Because it's been done through this UN framework, because it's been done through General Assembly debates, through the UN Secretariat and so on. There has been a venue, if you like, where you've actually allowed for a broader form of participation, and that has clearly shaped the norm as it has evolved over the last five years or so.
There are other instances where a bit more space has been made. You think of something like the G20, where you-- I mean, again, there's actually-- of course, this is an American idea to move from the G8 to the G20 as a reflection of the fact that we lived in a world with many more important powers that had important impacts on the global economy, and therefore needed to be represented, needed to have a place at the table. So again, that has been a very interesting recent development where you've seen sort of a broader participation.
In the book that you both referred to, the Basel rules on financial regulation, on banking regulation, again the Chinese have played an active part in developing those regulations. And as that Basel discussion has continued, they have actually taken a stronger line on protecting banking regulation than some of the Western powers. And so there is a sense in which these new forums do provide a voice at least for China.
Bodies like the IMF and so on, greater Chinese participation both in terms of taking roles. World Bank, you had Justin Lin here. That kind of thing. The idea that, yes, they can actually participate at the individual level. But also things like increasing voting power. It's not one country, one vote in bodies like the IMF, as you know. And although it's only a small advancement, nevertheless there has been an advancement in the weighted voting for the Chinese in that body.
So there are moves, if you like. Maybe not fast enough, but what cuts against that is China's own wariness, sometimes. I mean, reading a lot of this stuff on China and global governance, one of the arguments that Chinese commentators make sometimes is this is all a Western plot to give China more responsibility than it can actually bear. In other words, it's part of a containment strategy. It's very easy to turn the argument.
You know, again, another paradox. On the one hand, you want more voice, but if you're given more voice, this is really about something else. This is about giving China more responsibility than it can actually bear. So it is self, again, on this particular issue can be very, very cautious about what to take on and which areas to move in.
Your second point, just give me two words to remind me?
PROFESSOR ALLEN CARLSON: It relates to what you're already discussing, and also that you could tell the same narrative--
PROFESSOR ROSEMARY FOOT: Yes. And then in the end, what a realist would say. Yes.
PROFESSOR ALLEN CARLSON: [INAUDIBLE] of their own actions. And they say, well actually at the end of the day they are [INAUDIBLE] are outsiders and quite reluctant--
PROFESSOR ROSEMARY FOOT: Yes. It's interesting. The Syrian case is an interesting one, because you know in the end China, doesn't have-- unlike in Libya, where it had clear economic interests, it doesn't have the same inside Syria. And yet it feels the need to hedge its bets. You know, it feels the need to-- it could just simply hide behind the Russians and just go straight along with them, you know. End of story, don't have to worry about this. But it does feel the need to develop some kind of response to the condemnation that has occurred of its behavior, and some kind of response to expectations on the part of other states in the region.
So again, I think there's something more than what the realists would focus on in that instance.
AUDIENCE: You just mentioned towards the end of your talk about [INAUDIBLE]. And I was wondering if you see a bit more on economic sanctions--
PROFESSOR ROSEMARY FOOT: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: --as to [INAUDIBLE] had so much confidence about it, and especially with respect to China, you also mentioned that they don't have-- have more in common interests in Libya that in Syria. But the use of basic economic interest story that some tell about [INAUDIBLE]. So I was wondering whether you could [INAUDIBLE].
PROFESSOR ROSEMARY FOOT: Yes. I mean, the whole debate about economic sanctions and the kinds of conditions under which economic sanctions can be successful or not and so on is a thorny one and a very interesting one. I mean, there are forms of economic sanctions that are much more targeted these days. I mean, again, it's been a very interesting development, mostly over the 1990s, where you actually try to develop a more sophisticated set of sanctions that have less impact on the mass of the population and more target the bank accounts or the desire for luxury goods or whatever of, you know, the rulers that are in power in a particular country like Syria or whatever.
So there's that sort of argument that seems, to me, to be the kind of development that were that to have a bit more traction in the discussion of Syria, that the Chinese could actually probably buy into.
The problem is that a lot of the discussion, again, has been about should there be a no fly zone? Should there be arming of the opposition? You know, what should be done? Obama has also just recently, I think, introduced the idea to think of the economic aspects in a more positive light. In other words, actually providing humanitarian aid of various kinds, whether that's medical aid and the like.
The difficulty is that a statement like that, when it comes from the US government, is not taken at face value. It's taken as sort of an entry point into, and then it will expand into something else. But I think there are countries, other countries and organizations like the Red Cross and the like, that could actually develop that particular aspect of support for those that are suffering greatly inside the country.
And again, the Chinese could find themselves supporting. It depends where the message is coming from, and whether it's framed as part of a larger debate about intervention and the like. I mean, I would like to see the UN, you know-- I mean, it's got a peace-building commission these days. I mean, we're never going to get to the point where we have a UN army, which is perceived to be more neutral in these kinds of things. But I would quite like to see the United Nations develop much more of a kind of a humanitarian capacity to go in and set up hospitals in war torn areas, to actually have something ready and available and the like so that you could actually start to deal with some of the crises and the civilian need that quickly emerges in these types of conflicts.
PROFESSOR RICHARD MILLER: Rosemary Foot has mentioned one way in which the United States and China are very similar. We both have governments that don't like to be told what to do by global organizations. Two other ways in which our countries are similar-- one is that there's lots of worry about the growth of inequality in both countries. And another is that there are lots of questions about what it would be like if these were countries in which the government were genuinely responsive to the people's will.
On April 16, our next speaker, Wang Shaoguang, will be a leading figure in China's discussions of the growth inequality and what to do about it. And somebody who [INAUDIBLE] to the active process of politics in China, has lots of prospects and considerable reality in responding positively to the popular will in a way very different from Western institutional expectations.
So I hope you'll come to this fifth speaker in our series. And now please join me in thanking Rosemary Foot.
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Rosemary Foot, professor of International Relations at Oxford University, spoke on China's role in the international human rights regime, March 26, 2012.
Foot's talk was part of a lecture series, "The Rise of China," hosted by the Cornell Program on Ethics and Public Life.