China’s role in Post- Conflict Development

2 April 2012 08:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


By Mekala Kelegama
China’s deepening engagement in conflict-affected countries is creating new challenges for its policy makers as they come to terms with the contradictions between a policy of non-interference, and new interests that need protecting.
As the west's influence wanes, China's influence in some of the world's most turbulent countries is on the rise – and having a significant impact. China’s backing of Sri Lanka at the recently concluded UNHRC vote calling for a US led resolution against Sri Lanka has made clear that, as the world order changes, rising powers like China are increasingly involved in countries where peace is fragile. The capture of 29 Chinese road constructors in Sudan in January is another fact to be considered. China’s willingness to match financial assistance to host government requests, largely without political conditions, has made it a popular partner. In South Sudan, where infrastructure needs are immense, a government official was to have admitted that “if a man is thirsty, he needs to drink, no matter where the water comes from. China is ready to do things straightaway … When the West gives some small money, they want to manage it very carefully. While they are thinking what to do, China will come in.”
Beijing’s approach to conflict-affected countries has tended to prioritise healthy diplomatic relations with host governments, often with an eye to deepening commercial ties. The policy of non-interference in other states’ internal affairs has been one way to support these ties. The principle often implies implicit support for the incumbent regime and a state-orientated vision of stability. In practice, while the principle of non-interference remains important, Chinese policy has been implemented with a degree of pragmatism. For example, when it has judged its interests to be at stake, Beijing has exerted pressure on host governments to pursue peaceful options and hedged against political change by building relationships with alternative guarantors of stability.
China’s business-like approach to supporting economic development in some post-war contexts – typified by cheap loans from state-owned banks that pay Chinese companies to deliver infrastructure projects – can yield quicker results than Western aid and provide a tangible peace dividend. However, when the benefits are seen to favour certain groups or consolidate the power of elites, China’s economic role may inadvertently exacerbate instability. The reality of engagement in conflict-affected states is placing new pressures on Chinese policy.
China’s growing role is also creating a new reality for Western donors and policy makers. Sri Lanka is a case in point. In recent years China has become the largest development financer and arms supplier to the Government of Sri Lanka.  After they had long backed a peace agreement, Western states openly questioned the conduct of Sri Lanka’s 2009 military campaign that defeated the LTTE, leading to cuts in aid, restricted arms sales and calls for an international investigation into alleged war crimes. If such concerns existed in Beijing, they were muted: Sri Lanka’s conflict was an internal matter. Loans, arms and diplomatic backing continued.
Blaming China for the collapse of the peace in Sri Lanka overlooks not only the importance of domestic political dynamics that were beyond the international community’s control, but also the West’s own failings. Western states are by no means always a benign counter-weight to China’s presence. Their record in promoting peace overseas is mixed at best, and they are no strangers to prioritising healthy relations with host governments and top-down approaches to stability.
However, it is hard not to conclude that with a more diverse market for development assistance, diplomatic support and arms, governments in conflict-affected states are less responsive to Western conditionalities and pressure. Furthermore, calls for the protection of human rights, democratic reforms and good governance, never that loudly or consistently applied to start with, are at some risk of becoming even quieter as Western states compete with Beijing for the favour of host governments.
Nonetheless, although different values and principles exist, a shared interest in stability represents a concrete foundation for co-operation. As Beijing’s approach towards conflict-affected countries evolves to protect deepening interests, there is an unprecedented opportunity for China and the West to develop more complementary approaches in support of peace. This could, for example, focus on jointly developing policies and principles to make development assistance more conflict-sensitive. The current situation is not encouraging. There is little or no regular dialogue, let alone co-ordination or co-operation, between Chinese and Western representatives.
To address this, Chinese and Western policy makers need to create avenues for dialogue at multiple levels. This must include not only officials but also think tanks, academics and NGOs. Discussions on what is understood by stability, and how it is best promoted overseas, need to take place with the participation of civil society voices from countries where peace is fragile. Small, practical, on-the-ground development projects could be jointly supported in conflict-affected countries, serving as entry-points to deeper co-operation. Western states should make greater efforts to engage China in discussions on important multilateral agreements – such as that on aid effectiveness recently agreed in South Korea, and the upcoming negotiations on an international arms trade treaty. China needs to ensure its representatives participate constructively.
Peace and stability in conflict-affected countries will largely be determined by the decisions of their governments, politicians and leaders. However, complicity in violence and responsibility for peace is multi-layered. Western actors must work together more closely and redouble efforts to promote democracy, human rights and healthy state-society relations. These are the foundations on which inclusive peace and long-term stability are built. Aid needs to be linked to diplomacy more strategically and support should be given for non-state actors to have a stronger voice in the development process. 
For its part, Beijing needs to recognise the consequences of its engagement in countries where peace is fragile and act accordingly. This may mean re-assessing how to interpret non-interference, deliver development finance, and ensure Chinese weapons do not end up fuelling further human suffering. As Chinese policy makers grapple with how to square new-found influence, greater responsibility and deepening interests, they may well find that the solution ultimately lies in working with others. In this way, it may very well be that China’s growing role in conflict-affected states contributes to its peaceful rise as a global power.

Can China bring stability to  conflict-ridden states?
According to Dr Xiao Yuhua, from the Institute of African Studies at the Zhejiang Normal University in China, Beijing's approach to conflict-affected countries is evolving.
He states that events such as the kidnap of 29 road construction workers in Sudan in January creates domestic problems for China and underlines the risks of sending workers into some of the world's most unstable areas without working to create a lasting safe and peaceful environment.
"The fact is that China has to protect its own human as well as commercial interests in Africa," he said. "Attacks on Chinese workers and companies are increasing. China will always pursue a policy of non-intervention in sovereign affairs but I also think it is realising that to pursue commercial interests in areas of conflict, stability has to be encouraged in a way that will create a safe environment for everyone working and living there. I think we will begin to see more of an emphasis on governance."
He also said that as the west's leverage lessens, it will have to better understand the mindset that drives and moulds China's development work in Africa.
"The thing that is misinformed about China and Africa is that China's presence in these countries is not imposed on these governments, it is rather a reflection of the development agenda of the countries themselves," Yuhua said. "China does not have a values-driven approach to development like the west, but we understand the desire to develop and open up to new markets. There is a cultural misunderstanding there that must be addressed if there is going to be greater co-operation between all players in the future."
Many audience members at Thursday's discussion raised the issue of China's chequered human rights and environmental record, and its impact on local communities when it comes to its overseas development projects. Yuhua said he believed Beijing had started to take notice of the criticism and demand more accountability from its private sector partners.
The catch is China's issues with actually enforcing these standards on the ground – a problem that is likely to cause Beijing increasing problems if it doesn't find a way to reconcile its commercial ambitions with ensuring a safe and peaceful reception for the growing number of Chinese companies and workers in conflict-affected countries across the world.
The Guardian

Sri Lanka – China relations

Sri Lanka and China accorded each other diplomatic recognition in January 1950. In April 1952 the two countries entered into the historic Rubber-Rice Agreement, whereby Sri Lanka supplied rubber to China under a barter agreement, receiving rice from Chin in return. This arrangement was entered into at a time when certain countries had imposed a ban on the supply of strategic materials, which included rubber, to China.
The two countries established full diplomatic relations on 7 February 1957 and both countries took a number of steps in the political, economic, trade and cultural fields to strengthen their bilateral relations. Relations between Sri Lanka and China were brought to a record height during 2007, completing a mile-stone of 50 years of establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Sri Lanka has expressed unwavering support for China’s “One China” policy. Both countries have been cooperating in multinational on various bilateral and international issues.
The most prominent symbol of Chinese cooperation assistance to Sri Lanka remains the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) which is an enduring monument to Sri Lanka-China relations. China has also funded several other projects including the Supreme Courts Complex, the Central Main telecommunications Exchange, the Ginganga Flood Protection Scheme, the re-development of the Lady Ridgewat Children’s Hospital, among others.
Since 2007, China has featured prominently in Sri Lanka’s socio-economic development efforts by funding key infrastructural projects. These include the Norocholai (Puttalam) Power Project, the Hambantota Port and airport and the Colombo-Katunayake Express Way. The Performing Arts Theatre is another key project which was completed with Chinese assistance which stands as a symbol of enhancing ties between the two countries.

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