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China is taking a leading role in solving the refugee crisis

By Jeremy Garlick (chinadaily.com.cn) Updated: 2016-09-26 16:39

For some years now, Western commentators have been pointing out that China should shoulder more responsibility in terms of trying to solve problems in the international arena. Among the problems they have in mind is the current refugee crisis which has resulted from the civil war in Syria.

With their homes destroyed, floods of unfortunate people are continuing to pour across the border into Turkey and other neighboring countries. The war has robbed them of their security and now they are looking to establish a new life for themselves and their families. However, this quest is causing chaos as thousands trail into southern Europe and northwards towards Germany.

Obviously, the crisis is both a humanitarian disaster and a headache for both European and world leaders in terms of both politics and economics. This necessitates close cooperation on finding workable solutions, which is why the United Nations held its first summit on refugees last week.

It may have come as a surprise to those commentators who see China as a nation which fails to assume its responsibilities that the keynote speaker at the summit was the Chinese Prime Minister, Li Keqiang. Yet a look back in time shows that Premier Li has a track record of offering support to European countries on finding ways to end the crisis.

Last year in October, after meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Beijing, Li said that the Syrian war needs a political solution rather than the use of force. By this he meant that a way needs to be found to bring an end to the violence through peace talks rather than armed intervention.

One might say that talk is cheap, and that it is easy to make statements about what needs to be done, but rather harder to take action. This is true; but it is not true that China has not taken measures to back up its words.

For in his role as China’s representative Li pledged $100 million in humanitarian assistance for refugees at the summit. This comes in addition to the $20 million per year that China is already paying to the UN to assist with the goals of peace, security and development. China has also previously promised to establish a $1 billion fund over a period of ten years in support of the UN’s work.

However, it would not be fair to say that China’s contribution to solving the crisis is simply a matter of throwing money at it. Long-term instability in the Middle East is not desirable for anybody, and at present of all world powers China in particular seeks long-term solutions through building spheres of economic co-prosperity which benefit all parties.

That is certainly one goal of China’s Belt and Road initiative, which is a bold attempt to unify the markets of Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa through integrated trade and transport networks. In the very long-term the Belt and Road could bring an end to Middle Eastern conflict by offering improved living conditions for the people of the region, thus removing the need for dispossessed youth to turn to radicalism and terrorism.

But in the short-term the world needs more immediate measures. This is what China, in the person of Premier Li, is now offering.

According to Li, China is an enthusiastic supporter of working within the framework of the UN to encourage nations to work together on peaceful development. Beijing thus appears to be willing to take a leadership role in establishing practical mechanisms for bringing the refugee crisis to an end.

What precisely these mechanisms will be is not yet clear, since they need to be hammered out within the UN setting. Yet it is sure, from China’s point of view, that there should not be armed intervention, and that China will be attempting to be at the centre of talks on what action to take. China is thereby demonstrating, in response to its critics, that it is actively seeking to become both a responsible stakeholder and a leader in the existing international system; and, more specifically, in terms of trying to solve the refugee crisis.

Jeremy Garlick is lecturer in international relations at the Jan Masaryk Centre for International Studies, University of Economics in Prague.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and don't represent views of China Daily website.


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