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Ferguson’s Proposal for Chinese Intervention in Syria

Niall Ferguson thinks China should intervene somehow in Syria, which he tries to link to China’s “free-riding” on international stability:

Yet China contributes almost nothing to stability in the oil-producing heartland of the Arabian deserts and barely anything to the free movement of goods through the world’s strategic sea lanes.

Perhaps Ferguson hadn’t noticed, military interventions for the sake of regime change do not contribute to stability in the countries where they have been tried, and another one in Syria would contribute significantly to the greater destabilization of the region. Assuming that Ferguson is right that China ought to contribute to regional stability, it makes no sense to call for Chinese intervention in Syria. Of course, as far as Beijing is concerned China already does contribute something to regional stability by consistently opposing military invasions and attacks on states in the region. I suspect that the Chinese government would find it extremely amusing to be told that the U.S. has been a guarantor of stability in the Near East over the last decade, and they wouldn’t be the only ones laughing.

Ferguson’s argument doesn’t really concern Syria, and his references to Syria just end up muddling his larger point, which is that he thinks China should stop “free-riding.” There are two versions of the argument that China has to demonstrate that it is a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system from which it has benefited. Some of the time, this is a serious argument that China should respect its neighbors’ interests, which is reasonable enough. More often, it is just a smokescreen to complain that China refuses to support this or that misguided Western policy, which is mistakenly identified with the maintenance of international order. The issue might be increasing pressure on Iran over its nuclear program or taking sides in the conflict in Libya, but the assumption is that if China* fails to support policies that it regards as foolish or contrary to its own interests it has not yet proven that it is a “responsible” great power. Apparently, a state only becomes responsible when it is willing to harm its own interests by being incredibly short-sighted and waging unnecessary wars.

* Similar arguments have been and continue to be used to criticize Brazil and India, as well as Turkey and Germany.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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