Colombo, February 24 (Counterpoint): China on Tuesday released its “position paper” on global security. The comprehensive paper touches on all aspects of global security (except security from debt traps). But an aspect that should please many countries of the Global South, both big and small, is the plea for non-interference in the internal affairs of countries by the big powers.
“We believe all countries, big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, are equal members of the international community. Their internal affairs brook no external interference, their sovereignty and dignity must be respected, and their right to independently choose social systems and development paths must be upheld,” the position paper said.
Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh, China, and lately India too, have been bitterly complaining of US interference in their internal affairs, either to strengthen human rights or to promote a particular social or political ideology or to bring about a suitable regime change. Till some time ago, it was fashionable to openly champion the “Right to Protect”. At present, under the rubric of protecting human or democratic rights, interference goes on through censuring, shaming, lecturing and sanctioning.
Ever since the West started getting interested in Sri Lanka, following the entry of China into the field of economic development in the island under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2010, the South Asian country has been annually hauled over the coals at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for alleged war crimes. Sri Lanka’s plea that it was fighting a ruthless terror group, the LTTE, fell on deaf ears in the West as did the plea that outside interference is an assault on the country’s sovereign right to conduct its internal affairs as it deems fit.
The European Union denied Sri Lanka GSP Plus tariff concessions for a few years badly affecting the incomes of thousands of poor female garment workers. Some high-ranking army officers and two past Lankan Presidents were sanctioned by Western nations.
Most recently Sunday Times had written about a Western diplomat seeking appointments with Sri Lankan judges, allegedly to influence them in a case involving the controversial Local Government elections. In the past, this diplomat had tweeted seeking tolerance towards agitators who had in the past broken into the Presidential office.
On Wednesday, the National Freedom Front (NFF) MP, Wimal Weerawansa, alleged that a US Defense Department team under Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Jedidiah P. Royal had visited Sri Lanka with plans to get all Sri Lankan intelligence placed in the hands of a CIA official. The veracity of this claim is to yet to be established.
In January, on the second anniversary of the military coup in Myanmar, the US sanctioned six individuals and three entities connected to the military regime for alleged violation of human rights. In December 2021, the US sanctioned seven officials of Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an anti-terrorist and anti-drug trafficking outfit, for excesses, ignoring the drug and extremist threat to that developing country.
India has now come in for trenchant criticism over the treatment of Muslims and political opponents and critics by Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government. Indian liberals, rights lobbyists and the opposition parties welcomed the critical media coverage in the West, including the BBC documentary on Modi’s alleged complicity in the Gujarat anti-Muslim riots in 2002. But Indian Foreign Minister S.Jaishankar, described the Western media coverage as politically motivated and a thinly veiled bid to influence Indians against Modi ahead of the 2024 parliamentary elections. Others said that the West was annoyed with the Modi government for not backing it on Ukraine and trying to rally the Global South behind it in a bid for world leadership.
China, of course, is unabashedly threatened by the US. President Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had made no bones about the fact that the US aimed at overthrowing the communist party government in China.
It is in the context that the Global South will welcome the Chinese position paper which calls for non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. As far as India is concerned, it fits in with Nehru’s Five Principles for Peaceful Co-existence, which includes non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.
The Chinese position paper indicates Beijing’s approach to the Ukraine crisis in which the security of both Russia and Ukraine are involved. It says: “We believe all countries are equal in terms of security interests. The legitimate and reasonable security concerns of all countries should be taken seriously and addressed properly, not persistently ignored or systemically challenged. Any country, while pursuing its own security, should take into account the reasonable security concerns of others.”
Going further, it says: “War and sanctions are no fundamental solution to disputes; only dialogue and consultation are effective in resolving differences. We call on countries to strengthen strategic communication, enhance mutual security confidence, diffuse tensions, manage differences and eliminate the root causes of crises.”
“Major countries must uphold justice, fulfill their due responsibilities, support consultation on an equal footing, and facilitate talks for peace, play good offices and mediate in light of the needs and will of the countries concerned. The international community should support all efforts conducive to the peaceful settlement of crises, and encourage conflicting parties to build trust, settle disputes and promote security through dialogue. Abusing unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction do not solve a problem, but only create more difficulties and complications.”
Here, Beijing has a message for Russia as well as the US. While the former has been told that war is no solution, the latter has been ticked off for its crippling sanctions on Russia, which have indirectly affected Europe too.
The prescription that the “root causes” of crises should be eliminated upholds Russia’s plea that the US and NATO had shown scant regard for the threat to its security arising from NATO’s encroachment right up to Ukraine that is pat on Russia’s border.
Commitment to the UN system
The position paper calls for commitment to the UN system. It calls “on major countries to lead by example in honoring equality, good faith, cooperation and the rule of law, and in complying with the UN Charter and international law. “ It calls for adherence to mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation, sticking to the bottom line of no conflict and no confrontation, seeking common ground while reserving differences, and managing differences.
In an apparent allusion to disputes such as the one between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, the position paper says that political settlement of international and regional hotspot issues should be promoted. Countries should be encouraged to overcome differences and resolve hotspots through candid dialogue and communication.
The paper seeks compliance with the “joint statement on preventing nuclear war and avoiding arms races issued by leaders of the five nuclear-weapon states in January 2022.”
The international community should constructively participate in the political settlement of hotspots, but “under the premise of non-interference in internal affairs, mainly through the means of facilitating peace talks, with fairness and practicality as the main attitude, and mainly following the approach of addressing both symptoms and root causes.”
The paper specifically mentions support for the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis “through dialogue and negotiation.”
On fighting terrorism, the position paper says that the UN’s role as the central coordinator in the global fight against terrorism should be supported by the international community. It calls for the full implementation of the UN General Assembly and Security Council counter-terrorism resolutions and the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.
Of interest to India and Pakistan and also China, is the call to “jointly crack down on all terrorist organizations and individuals designated by the Security Council.” India has been accusing Pakistan of sheltering UN-designated terrorists and China of siding with Pakistan on this issue.
In an apparent reference to the branding of Pakistan as a “terrorist State” the position paper says that China opposes “linking terrorism with any particular country, ethnic group or religion.”