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Foreign Policy

Laying Low No Longer an Option for Beijing

Mar 07 , 2011

People are starting to grasp how China is shaping the world. Its ravenous appetites for oil, iron ore, coal, copper, bauxite and countless other minerals are invigorating economies from Australia to Chile. Its huge carbon emissions are altering the debate about climate change. Its ever-shinier collection of military hardware is worrying generals in Taipei, Hanoi and Washington. Less understood, however, is the way that China, ever more integrated into the global economy, is itself being shaped by the world.

That was evident this week in Libya. So far, Beijing has scrambled to evacuate 32,000 of the 35,000 Chinese working in the oil, rail, telecommunications and construction industries. In addition to 20 civilian aircraft, it sent four military transport planes to rescue thousands of stranded workers in what the Shanghai Daily said was the first deployment of the air force in such an operation. It also dispatched a 4,000-ton missile frigate, the Xuzhou, to waters off Libya, 5,500 miles from its own capital.

Linda Jakobson, programme director on China and global security at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, says the Libyan deployment marks a profound shift. It puts China on a par with the US, the UK and other advanced nations that can protect citizens far from home. One could view Beijing’s rescue effort as a display of its rippling power. But equally, it is evidence that, as China is sucked more deeply into the affairs of distant – and sometimes unstable – lands, its ability to stay out of trouble is diminishing by the day.

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