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Two Stories of Confucius: An Eye into China's Principle of "Non-interference in Internal Affairs"

(The article below, which is written by the Chinese Embassy in Nigeria, has been published on Nigerian newspaper DAILY TRUST, on 31th July, 2012.)

Since the beginning of the Syria crisis, some countries have been criticizing China for upholding the principle of "non-interference in internal affairs", calling for earlier military interference in Syria. Analyzing the motivation behind, those countries can be divided into two categories:

A few do have ulterior motives. Out of selfish intent, they are fanning the flame, driving wedges among countries and are eager to see tumult in the world.

Some others, with goodwill, care about the future of Syria and the interests of its people, and call for regime change through military intervention, aiming at restoring peace and stability in Syria.

Could the latter interference with goodwill reach its destination? Has the principle of "non-interference in internal affairs" become outdated on the Syria issue? Let me answer those questions by telling two stories about Confucius, a great philosopher of China during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC to 476 BC).

Story 1: How Confucius tried a case

Confucius was once appointed Chief Justice to the State of Lu. Shortly after Confucius taking office, a father and a son filed a lawsuit at his court. The father charged his son with disrespect and lack of filial piety, and requested Confucius to bring the son to justice, while the son also accused his father of committing gaffes. The two kept bickering at the court. Confucius, however, did not deliver his verdict right away. Instead, he detained the two in one cell, and henceforth held no inquiry until three months later when the father took the initiative to see Confucius. According to the father, he had reached a peaceful settlement with his son, and therefore asked for the withdrawal of the suit. Confucius released the two subsequently. Nonetheless, this led to the dissatisfaction of some ministers, who condemned Confucius for his connivance at the son's unfilial behavior, his injustice which is unworthy of his prestige, together with his nonobservance of the advocated filial piety.

As a matter of fact, it was not difficult for Confucius to sentence the son to prison in accordance with law. His refusal was out of his consideration in deeper levels. We may as well imagine, if the son was sentenced to imprisonment, seemingly his father had won the case, but what consequence would he face back home? Over time, the mother would be very much concerned about her son, other relatives would naturally be resentful of the father's heartlessness, and the son in prison would even hate his father all his life. The father himself, therefore, would inevitably be left in long-term embarrassment and remorse. Therefore, a seemingly legitimate and reasonable judgment may cause rupture of family relations as well as irreparable harm to family members, and nobody benefits from it in deed.

The first thing to solve family problem is to calm down. The relevant parties are supposed to resolve differences properly through dialogue and introspection, taking consideration for the overall situation of the solidarity of the family or clan. External mediators or persuaders should also adopt this principle in practice, trying to create a favorable environment for parties to calm down and make more efforts for peace among them. Contrarily, to simply support one party and accuse the other tends to deepen the hatred, intensify the contradictions and complicate the situation, and thus leads to "bad results though with good intentions" at last.

Now we can draw a conclusion that the way Confucius handling this case is for the maintenance of the long-term solidarity of the family and with genuine care for both parties, which is a choice of great rationality and wisdom.

For the same reason, we believe that any "home affairs" like disputes or confrontations within a country, Syria is no exception, should be resolved first and foremost by its own people. Other countries, bearing the principle of just and fairness in mind should do more work to promote peaceful talks between different groups and try to reach reconciliation through peaceful means such as negotiation and dialogue. During the negotiation process, military means should be avoided. Reckless actions, especially sanctions will not be solutions, and coordinators should restrain from supporting one group while against the other.

On the issue of Syria, China adheres to the principle of "non-interference in internal affairs" in order to maintain the long-term peace and stability and safeguard the unity and fundamental interest of that country. It is most noble and there is no weighing of interest for itself at all.

Story 2: Zi Gong redeems slaves

Confucius lived in the war time period when there were many battles between different states, and therefore it could be easy for the citizens of one state to be captured by the other and became the slave there. Confucius's home state Lu had a policy, which rewarded those who paid the ransom to regain the freedom of their enslaved fellow citizens. Once, Zi Gong, a student of Confucius, traveled to another state and paid ransom to free several Lu people. Considering himself from a rich family and a famous student of Confucius, he did not accept the rewards from the Lu government. He thought he did something noble. But when Confucius heard about that, he criticized Zi Gong. The reason was that, most of the Lu people were poor. As an eminent person of the society, Zi Gong's refusal to accept the rewards would gave others the impression that to accept the rewards was shameful. In reality that would hinder the government's efforts to rescue her enslaved people. Therefore, although Zi Gong's behavior was good for his own name, it exerted bad influence on the country, and although it seemed to be good for a short period of time, it would became the bane of the country in the future.

Similarly, when there are some problems within a country, also taking Syria as an example, other countries' interference or direct military involvement in overthrowing that government will become a bad precedent. No matter which county, once there are some problems within, other countries will enjoy the right to use force and change the government. When that happens, the world will be totally out of order.!

The sovereignty, independence and the territory integrity is sacred and inviolable. The UN Charter prescribe that equity of sovereignties and no interference of each other's internal affairs are the fundamental principles when handling the international relations. China's upholding the principle of "non-interference" is to protect the dignity of the UN Charter, to maintain peace and development and eventually to safeguard the fundamental interest of the world. At the time of enough disasters caused by brutally interfering other country's internal affairs, shall we learn some lesson from them?

China has all along participated in solving the Syrian issue in a positive, constructive and responsible manner. Our purpose is to safeguard the interests of the Syrian people and Arab countries, the interests of all countries, the small and medium-sized countries in particular, the role and authority of the United Nations and its Security Council, as well as the basic norms governing international relations.

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