“Turmoil in Libya worsens as West launches attack” is Xinhua’s headline in the wake of the French, American and British air strikes to enforce the U.N.-sanctioned no-fly zone in Libya. Its reports play up the civilian casualties announced by the Libyan government and accredited a variety of self-serving motives to the leaders of each Western country involved. China, along with Russia, did not veto the resolution when it was before the U.N. Security Council, but abstained from voting and it would have been aware of the consequences of that. Nonetheless, the foreign ministry issued a statement today expressing its regret over the military strikes and saying it did not “agree with resorting to force in international relations”.
While China also has its own business interests in Libya, Beijing has a fine diplomatic line to walk. As it starts to take a greater role on the global stage, it has to balance maintaining its position as an alternative to the West with not being seen as a backer of dictators that massacre their own people. Even more important, this Bystander believes, is how the perception of the Libyan crisis as a proxy for the wider dissent against authoritarian regimes being seen across the Arab world is managed domestically. We expect to see state media repeatedly connect the dots between dissent and turmoil.