Join our Mailing List

"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Limits to Beijing's bullying

April 1, 2012

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

In the playground of foreign affairs, you would think that size matters. The biggest bully always wins. This is often true, but I found it interesting to track the story of one relationship where size and clout simply didn't matter.

The big country in question is China. But I'm going to keep the little country a secret for now. Because first, look at how China typically dominates smaller countries. Take the example of tiny Nepal. It lies sandwiched between two bigger powers - India and China. While China is the world's second  largest economy and India ranks 10th, Nepal is not even in the top 100. So it often has to bow to the demands of its bigger, more powerful friends. While India has traditionally had more influence, that power is now switching to China. Beijing has doubled aid to Nepal. It's building roads there and a railway linking the two countries.

But obviously, China wants something in return. And it seems to be getting it. For the last two decades, thousands of Tibetans have escaped to Nepal every year, often heading onwards to India. That number has now dropped sharply, to just a few hundred. As China tries to cement its control over Tibet, it's getting help from Nepal policing the border and stopping Tibetans from escaping.

That's just one example. China's influence stretches far and wide. When I look around the world, I see how it uses its growing economic clout to influence policies, even domestic elections, from Angola to Zambia and beyond.

But as I said at the start - size doesn't always matter. Because it looks like China's met its match in a tiny little country to the West. It has a population of just five million, about a fourth that of Shanghai. Like Nepal, it begins with an "N". Got it yet? The country is Norway.

You may remember how in 2010, an independent Norwegian panel considered giving the Nobel Peace prize to a Chinese dissident. Despite intense pressure from Beijing, it wanted to make a decision it thought was right. But Liu Xiaobo wasn't allowed to go to Oslo to receive his award, so the committee went ahead and presented the prize to an empty chair.

Beijing of course, wasn't pleased. So it decided to make Oslo pay. It pressured its friends to abandon the event. The likes of Russia, Iraq, and Cuba didn't attend.

But Norway didn't flinch. So Beijing suspended talks on a free-trade agreement and barred imports of salmon from Norway. The two countries stopped talking.

But this is perhaps where Beijing overstepped its reach. China's economy may be 15 times the size of Norway's, but it accounts for less than 2% of Norway's exports. The two are about 4,000 miles apart. So consider the irony now. China wanted to bully Norway to do its bidding. Now, when China wants to join the Arctic Council, a powerful forum, which controls energy and security around the North pole, it needs all eight of the Council's members to vote "yes". China really wants this membership, so it can chart shorter routes to Europe and discover new energy sources.

But guess who could vote "no"? Yup, Norway.

We always hear the narrative of how China's global clout is increasing. But it has its limits. And the more aggressive and bullying Beijing gets, the more it will discover that being the biggest bully on the playground isn't the only thing that matters.

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank