Eyebrows were raised when the United States decided to evacuate its embassy and military personnel, but not its citizens, in the wake of the current Yemeni conflict. Several human rights groups have gone as far as to sue the State Department for abandoning up to 4,000 American citizens in the conflict-torn country. China and India, however, did not even bat an eyelid. The two rising world powers wasted no time in evacuating not only their own citizens, but also those of several other nations.
China used its navy to evacuate about 225 foreign citizens from a list of countries including Pakistan, Ethiopia, Singapore, Italy, Germany, Poland, Ireland, Britain, and Canada. The redeployment of the country’s navy from routine anti-piracy patrol assignments off the coast of Somalia to the Gulf of Aden for the evacuation demonstrated the quality of China’s naval fleet, as its ships were able to “[go] into and out of a touchy situation without the need to flash an aircraft carrier or killer anti-ship submarines.” The evacuation, however, was not only a military success, but was in many more ways a diplomatic one.
In November 2014, President Xi Jinping announced a refocusing of Chinese diplomacy: no longer would the US and Europe be the country’s international focal points. Instead, the world’s largest economy would focus on its fellow BRICS members, its Asian neighbors, and other major developing powers. This new focus of diplomacy would be a “new type of international relations centered on ‘win-win’ cooperation,” rather than the typical expectionalist approach taken by most world powers in regard to diplomacy, particularly when dealing with the Global South.
Xi’s approach is nothing new: the concept of “equality and mutual benefit” was encouraged by former Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in his 1954 ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.’ China’s efforts in Yemen give a solid example of this brand of diplomacy and leave hope for further such endeavors. This is the first time China has evacuated citizens of other nations, and the deployment of China’s military in Middle Eastern waters represents a great victory in an unfamiliar region of the ‘developing world.’
The Indian government itself has also staged a monumental evacuation process, involving the safe transportation of nearly 960 foreign nationals from 41 countries – including from the United States – by a combination of aircraft, railways, and naval vessels. This effort has allowed India to lead the evacuation of foreigners from Yemen, with the US Embassy even urging its citizens to seek Indian assistance when attempting to leave the country.
The evacuations have also been an unexpected source of diplomatic miracles. Pakistan’s evacuation of 11 Indian citizens by way of a naval vessel led to some rare affection between the two rival nations, with India’s Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar stating that, “Pakistan took great trouble and we need to appreciate that.” The double-barreled effort, though not coordinated between the two world powers, also shines an encouraging light on the potential for cooperation between China and India. Relations between the two countries have been plagued by border disputes for decades, reaching a climax during the Sino-Indian war of 1962. Since then, animosities have simmered, and the pair have become important to each other as economic and diplomatic partners.
Though border disputes are ongoing, the evacuation of Indian, Chinese and foreign citizens from Yemen demonstrates the joint capabilities of the two rising nations, particularly in light of a lack of action from world powers such as the US. Relations between the two countries are complex, and the border disputes, among other issues, raise a few questions about the ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence’ for both sides. This evacuation, however, demonstrates just how effective the two nations can be when their efforts and interests meet.
The US still has many questions to answer as to why it left its citizens stranded in Yemen, evacuating its embassy and military but advising the laypeople to seek help from other nations. The answer, in this case, came in the form of Chinese and Indian efforts, which proved massively effective and well-coordinated in a region unfamiliar to both nations. What this means for the future of these nations remains to be seen, both in respect to their international sway and in terms of their cooperation with each other. It is, at the very least, comforting to see that countries with fewer resources and historic presence in the region can step in to assist those in need when more powerful and appropriately positioned nations turn a blind eye.
Adrian Jennings is a first-year student at Wheaton College, looking to study Chinese and Mathematics. He is a Staff Writer for The Diplomacist.