Unlike most other myths about China that are created and perpetuated by the West, this myth – the notion that China does not ever interfere in the internal affairs of other sovereign nation states – was created by China itself. It is perpetuated primarily by China’s historical record of non-intervention. Consequently, over time this principle of non-intervention has unnecessarily taken on an absolutist and unilateral character, while casting aside one small but vital element of Premier Zhou’s original doctrine: 互.
A bit of background for new readers who may not be familiar with the doctrinal foundations of PRC foreign policy. Shortly after the founding of the Republic, Premier Zhou Enlai outlined five basic principles by which China conducts relations with other nation-states:
These principles are roughly translated as “mutual respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference of internal affairs, equality & mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence”, and they remain the basis of Chinese foreign policy to this day.
The word “互”, or “mutual“, by definition implies a reciprocal, non-unilateral relationship. Therefore, under the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, China has NO moral, legal, or doctrinal obligation to respect the sovereignty of nation-states that interfere in China’s internal affairs, since such restraint must be reciprocal. Needless to say, I have a very specific and narrow group of countries in mind that fits the category above.
As China increases its comprehensive national power, it must realize external intervention will not simply go away; it will be ever more critical for China to develop the talent, infrastructure, and institutions necessary to engage in retaliatory foreign intervention (when opportunities arise). I would hope that this capability would be used in a conservative, judicious, and proportional manner.
Perhaps one way to start would be to help a political dissident break free of persecution… >;-]