When the United States decided to evacuate its embassy and military personnel in Yemen, but not its citizens in the wake of the current conflict, eyebrows were raised. Several human rights groups have gone so far as to sue the state department over abandoning up to 4,000 American citizens in the conflict-torn country. China and India, however, did not even bat an eyelash. The two rising world powers wasted no time in evacuating not only their own citizens but also those of several other nations.
China has used its navy to evacuate about 225 foreign citizens from a list of countries including: Pakistan, Ethiopia, Singapore, Italy, Germany, Poland, Ireland, Britain, Canada, and Yemen. The redeployment of the country’s navy from routine anti-piracy patrol assignments off the coast of Somalia for the evacuation demonstrated the quality of the Chinese navy, as they “[got] into and out of a touchy situation without the need to flash an aircraft carrier or killer anti-ship submarines.” The evacuation was not only a military success, but a diplomatic one as well.
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 neighbours, and 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 exceptionalist approach taken by most world powers to diplomacy, particularly with the Global South. This approach is nothing new: the concept of “equality and mutual benefit” was stipulated 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 new diplomacy and leave hope for such further endeavors: this is the first time China has evacuated citizens of other nations, while the deployment of China’s military in middle eastern waters brings a great victory in unfamiliar territory of the ‘developing world.’
The Indian government has staged a monumental evacuation process, involving the safe transportation of nearly 960 foreign nationals from 41 countries – including those from the United States – through a combination of aircraft, railway and naval vessels. The country has led the evacuation of foreigners from Yemen, with the U.S. Embassy urging its citizens in the country to seek Indian assistance in departure.
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 with the Sino-Indian war in 1962. Since then animosities have simmered, and the two 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 place of a lack of action from world powers such as the United States. 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 U.S. still has many questions to answer as to why it left its citizens stranded in Yemen, evacuating its embassy and military but advising private citizens to seek help from other nations. The answer 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 bodes for the future remains to be seen; both in terms of the international sway of the two countries individually and in terms of their cooperation with each other. It is comforting at least to see that countries with fewer resources and less of a historic presence in a region can step in to assist those in need when more powerful and appropriately positioned nations turn a blind eye.