Foreign Policy Blogs

Neutrality is No Longer an Option

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping upon arrival for a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing

Photo: POOL/Reuters

As a founding member of the United Nations in 1945 and as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, China has sometimes drawn criticism for the use of its veto to forestall other nation’s interference in the affairs of its allies. Recently, Beijing was roundly condemned, along with Russia, for vetoing UN Security Council resolutions against Syria last year. However, Beijing has used its veto only 9 times since 1945, and largely taken a back seat on international affairs, stressing a policy of non-interference and pointing to its status as a developing country as an excuse not to take on more responsibilities on the global stage. This stated position, however, may have changed following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting with UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday.

During the meeting, Xi expressed his desire for China to play a more prominent role in international affairs. While discussing the conflict in Syria and North Korea’s nuclear program, Xi also outlined China’s expectations of the UN, calling on its members to be “fair and just, “uphold the principles of impartiality and righteousness” , “speak in a fair manner”, and to scrap the “zero-sum mindset”.

This latest bold expression of Beijing’s desire to flex its muscles and influence U.N. policy is symptomatic of China’s growing status as an economic power, and could lead to a seismic shift away from its stated policy of non-interference in the other nation’s affairs. Apparently, China is no longer satisfied with being a supporting actor on the global stage and is seeking a leading man role.

Since the inauguration of President Xi, China has been more active in calling for a multipolar world order, arguing that the existing international governance structure is dominated by major powers and organizations like the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Xi may see that China is now finally in a position to influence the U.N. and move further away from a U.S. – European mindset when evaluating international affairs.

Xi’s meeting with Ban Ki-Moon should finally dissuade Beijing from sticking to its foreign policy of non-interference. Now is the time for China’s traditional policy of non-interference to be tossed out. There is no way for Beijing to play a greater role on the international stage and not get involved in another nation’s affairs. The U.N. has a mandate to interfere in certain situations. Beijing’s expectations the U.N. will uphold the principles of impartiality and righteousness means the U.N. may have to intervene in the affairs of other nations. If Beijing wants to be recognized as a global power, Beijing needs to drop its long-held policy of non-interference and take a proactive role in helping the U.N. achieve “fair and just” results. Being neutral is no longer an option.



Gary Sands

Gary Sands is a Senior Analyst at Wikistrat, a crowdsourced consultancy, and a Director at Highway West Capital Advisors, a venture capital, project finance and political risk advisory. He has contributed a number of op-eds for Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek, Washington Times, The Diplomat, The National Interest, International Policy Digest, Asia Times, EurasiaNet, Eurasia Review, Indo-Pacific Review, the South China Morning Post, and the Global Times. He was previously employed in lending and advisory roles at Shell Capital, ABB Structured Finance, and the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation. He earned his Masters of Business Administration in International Business from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and a Bachelor of Science in Finance at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut. He spent six years in Shanghai from 2006-2012, four years in Rio de Janeiro, and is currently based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Twitter@ForeignDevil666