Strengthening Responsibility Sharing with South–South Cooperation: China’s Role in the Global Compact on Refugees

Lili Song

International Journal of Refugee Law, 2018


China remains a major source of refugees and asylum seekers, and in the past 20 years it has also emerged as a destination and transit country. China has also started to demonstrate growing interest in influencing and leading international refugee affairs. The article highlights several trends relating to China’s recent activities in relation to the negotiation of the Global Compact on Refugees, and refugee assistance in general:

  • China’s refugee aid focuses on Asian and African countries as part of the One Belt, One Road initiative.
  • Despite China’s increasing monetary contribution to refugee aid, it has shown no signs of willingness to engage in resettlement. China sees itself as a developing country and part of the global South, and thus with a different share of responsibility for refugees when compared to the global North.
  • China shows particular interest in taking a leadership role in solving the Rohingya crisis, motivated by: (a) geographical proximity of the crisis to China and potential spillover into China; and (b) the fact that Rakhine State in Myanmar is the starting point of the strategically important oil and gas pipelines linking the Andaman Sea and China’s Yunnan province, enabling China to reduce its dependency on the Malacca Strait.

While noting that China’s view on how to achieve durable solutions to refugee movements does not echo that of the West, as exemplified by the Rohingya crisis, the author argues that it is important and possible for China and international stakeholders to find common ground and ways to develop constructive partnerships. At the same time, if China is to achieve its aspiration to be a leader in global refugee governance, it will have to convince the international community that it upholds the core principles of refugee protection.