China: flipping the (non)-interfering coin

China: flipping the (non)-interfering coin

Africa as a natural resource rich continent has attracted many non-African states to invest and trade. Both Western countries and China have been engaged in Africa for centuries (Dorman, 2014). However, there have been significant differences in terms of approach. Western diplomacy is characterised by interfering with the alter nation’s policies and political views, whereas the Chinese have an opposite approach where not interfering is the main driver. However, over the years China’s context changed into becoming a highly influential player in the globe. Moreover, as China’s recent diplomatic and economic engagement increased on the African continent, it has received a large amount of exogenous scrutiny and attention (The Diplomat, 2012). Example cases have shown that China’s diplomacy policy is developing and slightly shifting. Thus, to what extent is the Chinese non-interference policy in congruence and of relevance today?

Since 1954 China has been engaging a non-interference policy (Iyasu, 2013). The non- interference policy, in theory, has a broad definition derived from China’s Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, including: (1) mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, (2) mutual non-aggression, (3) non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, (4) equality and mutual benefit; and (5) peaceful coexistence (Dorman, 2014).

It embodies China’s way of interacting with the outside world, mostly with an economic agenda, and its purpose was to reach out to countries that were not communistic both in and outside Asia (Iyasu, 2013). The Western diplomacy approach characterises the opposite, i.e. engaging in internal affairs of the state invested in (Dorman, 2014).

‘This imprinted trauma contributed in China’s diplomacy, as we know it today.’

More interesting to touch upon, is where this norm emerged. According to the theory, China’s decision to not interfere appears to be based on a trauma where China has been a victim of manipulation exerted by other nations (Dorman, 2014). Understanding China’s non- interference narrative of today goes back to the early 19th until mid 20th century (Kaufman, 2011: 2; Dorman, 2014: 22). More specifically, China has experienced occupation and claims by Western power during ‘century of humiliation’ (Kaufman, 2011: 2).

‘Century of humiliation’
This imprinted trauma contributed in China’s diplomacy, as we know it today. Other than this trauma, China as a state itself is engaged in beliefs and practices that are not approved and legitimated by Western societies. For example: the violation of human rights, actions taken against individuals raising resistance such as physical assaults and intimidations (Freedom House, 2015).

From a Western perspective (Macionis & Plummer, 2012) these are non-democratic practices that China does not want to be interfered by. Thus, as a consequence of both the ‘century of humiliation’ and the incongruence of political and internal affairs approach with other power nations, China developed its authentic way of engaging diplomatically.

Hence, as African leaders started to grow their impatience toward Western investments, with their democratic and neoliberal agenda, China could plant its seeds easily, with little or no engagement in the African internal and political affairs. A highly interesting option for the leaders of the African nations, however, many critics emerged simultaneously.

The heart of the critique is that this non-interference policy has severe implications for the citizens e.g. with regard to their security and human rights, while simultaneously the African leaders and China benefit from economic growth (The Diplomat, 2012; Dorman 2014).

‘..the other side of the coin displays somewhat hypocritical practices.’

A real life example thereof is the case of Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC hereafter). China has invested tremendously in Sudan in exchange for oil. Accordingly, this made it possible for Sudan to import small arms, 90% sold by China (Iyasu, 2013). Therefore, the superpower fostered the crisis in Darfur that followed (Iyasu, 2013).

The same principle occurred in the second case concerning the DRC. Hence, the critique from the West is derived from the argument that the Chinese investment practices contributed to intensify local conflict, increase political instability both inside the country and outside – i.e. neighbouring countries, and violate human rights (Iyasu, 2013).

However, as a counterargument across the critique of Western countries, the other side of the coin displays somewhat hypocritical practices. For example, by the United States, for engaging with Saudi- Arabia – where the state has an authoritarian regime (Macionis & Plummer, 2008: 541), and human rights are violated on a daily basis (Flounders, 2015).

China: superpower rapist of the US economy
That indeed, China’s non-interference policy has its implications. And yes: the Western diplomacy approach also has its downsides. However, we simply cannot ignore the fact that China has developed itself from a regional crucial state to a global and highly relevant power (Global Times, 2013).

Especially now, since President 45 (yes, I do not call the orange-faced clown by his name), has been bashing China during his campaign, calling the growing superpower ‘the rapist of the US economy’– it seems that every single day this nation becomes more and more important – being the single largest contributor to world GDP growth (World Economic Forum, 2016).

How long can China sell her diplomacy policy as one that is of non-interfering nature? The examples as mentioned earlier clearly exhibit that a transition has started as a response to contingent developments and China’s growth into an economic booming superpower. Although we cannot put China in a box, since it is characterised by a high level of complexity, there appears to be a decrease in China’s non-interference policy today. It appears to be the case that China is currently in a phase of economic transformation, in which diplomacy takes a major role.

Therefore, China remains relevant; its non-interference policy is fading, but in favour of what benefits China. It’s coming…


  • Dorman, S. (2014). China’s evolving foreign policy in Africa: a new direction for China’s non-intervention strategy? (Doctoral dissertation, Monterey, California: Naval Postgraduate School).
  • Flounders, 2015 | Saudi oil and US hypocrisy. [Online].
  • China | Freedom House. 2015. [Online]. Available:
  • Iyasu, A. (2013). China’s Non-Interference Policy and Growing African Concerns. African Arguments, July, 18.
  • Macionis, J. J., & Plummer, K. (2008). Sociology: A Global Introduction, 4th edn, Harlow. Chapter 16; P. 540.
  • The Diplomat, 2012 | Non-interference: a double-edged sword for China in Africa. [Online]. Available: for-china-in-africa/
  • World Economic Forum, 2016 | Why China is central to global growth. [Online]. Available: