The Downfall of Gaddafi overshadows Beijing

The Downfall of Gaddafi overshadows Beijing
By He Qinglian on Oct 24, 2011
[translated from]

Reading reports and commentaries about Muammar Gaddafi by Chinese media, I got the impression that somehow the death of this dictator gets on every nerve of China, the distant nation in the East. While the Chinese public cheer his downfall in all sorts of ways, the reaction from the government cannot be more different: by resorting to various expressions to stress the cost, and the cruelty of Libyan civil war, the officials deliberately portray this spontaneous resistance of the people as a Western plot to get oil.

Among those articles by China's mouthpieces, the following two are loaded with the largest amount of message. “The Five puzzles Gaddafi left behind in Libya” and “Gaddafi all over in blood: a warning sign to the Middle East that Europe and the United States are utterly untrustworthy”. On the face of it, these two articles showed concern for the Libyan people, but in reality the two articles revealed the fear the authors have toward their compatriots and the international system.

Let's start with the article “The Five puzzles Gaddafi left behind in Libya”. Muammar Gaddafi 's behavior, seen in the eyes of normal countries of the West as bizarre and brutal, was what the author seen as “idiosyncratic”. The five puzzles listed out in the article included: the formation of a new government, the mean to end the civil war, the distribution of war bonus, and the way to return to the international community.

While some of these are genuine problems, the author has blown them all out of proportion into nearly unsolvable deadlocks. 

For example, the author saw the country’s changes of name from “the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” to “Libya” as an indication of “uncertainty in how the country is to move forward”. This view is somewhat like screaming “the sky is falling”. 

The uprising forces’ taking off their uniform was not something to make a fuss out of either, they are not formal soldiers in the first place after all. And instead of seeing the death of Muammar Gaddafi as a sign that the civil war has ended, the author imagines there are still numerous forces loyal to the toppled leader that would keep fighting for him. 

As for the conflict between different tribes, this problem was already there when Muammar Gaddafi was in power, it wasn't brought about by the new government. And the question of how Libya is to return to the international community is a puzzle created out of the author’s imagination: the United States, the European Union, and even Russia have recognized the TNC as the legitimate government, with China the only country that hasn’t completely sorted out its relation with the TNC. 

Hence the real issue should be how China is to secure a position in “rebuilding Libya”, and how to maintain China’s interests since the time of Muammar Gaddafi.

And the article "Gaddafi all over in blood" expressed unreservedly the worry those in power have about losing it. It read as if the writer was saying the fate of Muammar Gaddafi may be a powerful reminder to Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, that they should never surrender their power, that they should never show signs of weakness, otherwise they would have to face a miserable end. Once they lose the fight everything would be lost. But these are very much China's own fear. 

To prevent these from happening, he offered four suggestions to those dictators: first, these countries seek patronage from a “mighty big brother”, that’s to say, these autocratic regimes should look to China and form an alliance with it; second, to prevent the oppositions inside their countries from collaborating with external forces in overthrowing their governments, these countries should “fix” the oppositions; third, unite the people; and fourth, never trust European powers and the United States.

Of these four suggestions, the third one is empty talk: the people in those countries are already at odds with their government. The first one is what China wish for, but it is not likely that these Middle East countries would look at China that way. As for the second suggestion, it actually means the policy to "maintain stability", one that Beijing has put into practice all along.

People should be able to see these articles are written not with the purpose of mourning an “old friend” – Director-general of Department of African Affairs of China's Foreign Ministry, Lu Shaye, had stated on October 23 that Muammar Gaddafi was not a friend of China”. Instead, these articles revealed Beijing’s worries about its future. But whether revealing the worries this way is appropriate or graceful, Beijing seems to be so at a loss that it didn't think this over.

When Saddam Hussein’s autocratic regime was toppled by U.S. led coalition forces, China said it was the result of external forces’ intervention, a statement that made the Chinese people hard to determine the correct picture there.

This time round, the Libyan people have already stood up against the regime, only that they could hardly win the battle on their own and they appealed to international community to step in, Beijing could not say it’s another forceful intervention from external forces. Whether the remaining dictators choose to step down or to keep fighting after they saw the end of Muammar Gaddafi would be up to their understanding of the situations inside their countries.

Beijing warns these countries not to trust Europe and the United States. But I believe that in the eyes of  dictators in these countries, Beijing may be even less trustworthy. One can tell this simply by the fact that they deposit all the funds they amassed with banks in Europre and the United States. 

During the Third Wave of Democratization and the Arab Spring this year, Beijing has not offer support or shelter to any of it good friends; and it hasn’t the power to mediate like the United States and major powers in Europe do.

The greatest disappointment China, excluding its general public, has on the death of Gaddafi was that, while it became aware of Muammar Gaddafi’s inevitable downfall long ago, it wished he would honor his words and died on the battle ground, so that his image of "Anti-American hero" could be preserved and could be used as an example to encourage others of its kind.

Yet it didn't realize that all dictators are cowards. They couldn't care less about the lives of others when they are in power, giving out orders to kill is just part of their daily business. But when they themselves are doomed, dictators would have the strongest desire to stay alive. Almost none of the dictators would choose to take their own lives to preserve their own dignity. Saddam Hussein didn’t take his life. So didn’t Muammar Gaddafi. They were either dragged out from the cellar or were caught inside the sewer. So much for their image of “anti-American hero”. The way they died bought total disgrace on others of their kind.

Some in China urged that the body of Gaddafi be treated nicely. I would say this is what China doesn’t have to worry about. Modern civilization would not insult the corpse of those who had been overthrown. The Libyan transitional government has already pleadged to give the body of Muammar Gaddafi back to his family.

But whether China, a country with the tradition of “digging up graves to flog the dead”, would treat nicely the body of fallen opponents would be hard to say. During the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards didn’t just destroy the tombs of Confucius and Bao Zheng, an official from Song dynasty who was best known for integrity in China; they also dug out and displayed in public the remains of Qu Qiubai, the third general secretary of the CCP, calling those dog bones.

This was the main reason Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping requested that their cremated ashes be scattered into the sea. But then I think, if China's to curb the ugly custom of insulting the dead, it may as well begin with treating nicely the living, and in particular the political opposition.