The emerging principle of a “responsibility to protect” (R2P) presents a direct challenge to China’s traditional emphasis on the twin principles of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other states and non-use of military force. This paper considers the evolution of China’s relationship with R2P over the past ten years. In particular, it examines how China engaged with R2P during the recent Libyan crisis, and considers what impact this conflict may have first, on Chinese attitudes to R2P, and second, on the future development and implementation of the doctrine itself. This paper argues that China’s decision to allow the passage of Security Council resolution 1973, authorising force in Libya, was shaped by an unusual set of political and factual circumstances, and should not be viewed as evidence of a dramatic shift in 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 at least, this post-Libya backlash against R2P is likely to constrain the Security Council’s ability to respond decisively to other civilian protection situations
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