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With great power comes great responsibility : China's dilemma in responding to humanitarian crises Skaf, Joëlle


The People’s Republic of China has increasingly been asserting its role as a responsible power in international affairs, emphasizing its engagement in and contribution to UN peacekeeping missions and its key role as a veto-yielding Security Council member. This thesis investigates that while China continues to champion a strong conception of state sovereignty in interstate relations, it has signaled a shift from an ideological insistence on non-interference toward a more pragmatic approach to humanitarian crises. This paper demonstrates how after 2005 China has managed to position itself in a ‘grey zone’ of uncertainty, that is to say that China’s dilemma is wanting to appear responsible on the international level but also wanting to adhere to safe principles such as non-interference and sovereignty. Therefore, it is my argument that China will never fully endorse R2P or any alternative norm that will justify foreign intervention in a sovereign state. While China continues to show support for alternative formulas for civilian protection, such as the Brazilian ‘Responsibility while Protecting’ (RwP), as well as develop its own version of R2P, ie. ‘Responsible Protection’ (RP), it is not to turn “words into deeds” but rather to keep up with appearances. China’s current position on responding to humanitarian crises is ambiguous. The principles behind RP represent a very useful conceptual approach to the issue of humanitarian protection, but the probability of implementing them is virtually non-existent. RP indicates that China has been more responsive to external criticisms in recent years, but does not fundamentally help to discern where China stands on responding to humanitarian crises. Because of RP’s tight criteria, China ensures that in practice no intervention can ever fully be justified, while appearing to advance more ‘responsible’ approaches to civilian protection as its great-power status and privileged position as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council permit it to do so.

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