With five million citizens to protect and billions of investment dollars at stake, China is rethinking its policy of keeping out of other countries’ affairs.
China has long made loans conditional on contracts for its companies. In recent years it has sent an army of its nationals to work on pipelines, roads and dams in such hot spots as South Sudan, Yemen and Pakistan. Increasingly, it has to go across borders to protect or rescue them.
That makes it harder to stick to the policy espoused by then-premier Zhou Enlai in 1955of not interfering in “internal” matters, something that has seen China decline to back international sanctions against Russia over Ukraine or the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
As President Xi Jinping’s “Silk Road” program of trade routes gets under way, withinfrastructure projects planned across Central Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Middle East to Europe, China’s footprint abroad will expand from the $108 billion that firms invested abroad in 2013, up from less than $3 billion a decade earlier.
That is forcing China to take a more proactive approach to securing its interests and the safety of its people. With more engagement abroad there’s a risk that China, an emerging power with a military to match, is sucked into conflicts and runs up against the U.S. when tensions are already flaring over China’s disputed claims in the South China Sea.