China is correct: no compromising on national sovereignty
Apartheid was declared a crime against humanity. We realise that some leaders both past and present as well as in South Africa and abroad conveniently forget this fact when they argue against the international principles of sovereignty and non-interference.
“Imagine if the world did not intervene in South Africa!”, a former leader of the opposition and former diplomat here, in South Africa, wrote recently.
Yet what he and his Western diplomat friend miss is that humanity was conscience-bound to support the fight against apartheid.
“Opposition to interference in internal affairs” has become a hallmark of African politics given colonialism and the later experiences with structural adjustment programmes of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund during the eighties.
This sentiment has also grown in many parts of the global south precisely because of direct interference by North American and European governments in the domestic politics of developing countries.
Yet opposition to interference in internal affairs was also the theme of China’s presentation at the recently held US-China High-level Strategic Dialogue in Alaska. Chinese state councillors and diplomats, Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi, met with the newly appointed US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, and US national security advisor, Jake Sullivan.
It was the first set of high-level engagements between China and the new Biden administration.
Expressing his regret for recent US action and “unreasonable accusations”, Yang said: “We thought that the US side would follow the necessary diplomatic protocols.” In respect of the US’ own record on human rights, Yang stated: “So for China it was necessary that we make our position clear. So, let me be clear that in front of the Chinese side the US does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength.”
“I can’t breathe,” those last words uttered by the late George Floyd together with the words by the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, that “the scenes (of violence on the US Capitol) we have seen are the result of lies and more lies, of division and contempt for democracy, of hatred and rabble-rousing, even from the highest levels,” indicate the level of disregard that the US itself has had for democracy and human rights.
The US administration’s inability to control the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, the attacks on minorities, the onslaughts on democratic institutions, growing social unrest, inequality and the disregard for international conventions are indicators of an American society in deep trouble and who certainly cannot lecture the rest of the world.
Yang was hopeful that this round of talks would be honest and sincere. In particular, an intolerance for Western and specifically US interference in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang was expressed by the Chinese delegation. China’s sole aim, an aim shared by any other country and the US, is to ensure the betterment of the livelihoods of its people.
China has introduced and institutionalised a system of governance that it found necessary for its conditions and a system of governance which has certainly paid off, literally eradicating poverty in a country of 1.2 billion people.
Africa and South Africa can learn from China. None of us can be bold enough to say we can do without other countries, especially a power such as the US. Yet we must be able to insist on international principles such as national sovereignty while being the first to respect the sovereignty of other countries. We cannot interfere in the internal affairs of countries, especially neighbours.
All countries have their challenges but, like China, we must learn to address our own challenges first before pointing a finger at others.
* Wesley Seale has a PhD in international relations.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.