Asian Journal of International Law


China and the “Responsibility to Protect”: The Implications of the Libyan Intervention


a1 Queensland University of Technology, Australia


The emerging principle of the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) challenges China's traditional emphasis on non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other states and non-use of force. This article considers the impact of the 2011 Libyan intervention on Beijing's evolving relationship with R2P, and assesses its implications for the future development of the doctrine itself. It argues that China's decision to allow the passage of Security Council resolution 1973, which authorized force in Libya, was shaped by an unusual set of political and factual circumstances, and does not represent a significant softening of Chinese attitudes towards R2P. More broadly, controversy over the scope of NATO's military action in Libya has raised questions about R2P's legitimacy, which have contributed to a lack of timely international action in Syria. In the short term, this post-Libya backlash against R2P is likely to constrain the Security Council's ability to respond decisively in civilian protection situations.


* Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology, Australia. This article was finished in December 2011. Subsequent developments up to 27 March 2012 have, as far as possible, been included.