The global refugee crisis that has been dominating European debates for over a month has brought out the best and the worst in Europeans. Hospitality exists side by side with islamophobia, courageous policy decisions are hampered by glacial decision-making processes, NIMBYism conflicts with European solidarity. But why do refugees come to Europe in the first place? Is it only because Europe offers relative wealth with stability and peace? Then, why not come to… China?

Last month, a commentator for the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily told readers that the real reason for the refugee crisis in Europe was none other than ‘Western powers,’ which he blamed for creating havoc and instability around the world in order to export its ‘so-called democratic system’. Judging from posts on the heavily censored mainland Chinese Internet, many ‘netizens’ seem to agree. According to one of them ‘the refugee crisis started when America and its running dogs, boasting of freedom and democracy, launched a revolution in Syria.’

Despite common belief among mainland Chinese, Syria was never invaded by US troops, never bombed before its bloody civil war was well under way and President Barack Obama resisted, until very recently, any sort of active role for the United States in Syria. Obama, a vocal opponent of George W. Bush’s foreign misadventures, has swung to the other extreme of his predecessor’s interventionism by drawing red lines without consequences.

Destruction during the Syrian Civil War. Photo: Wikicommons.

It was Assad who started this war, by cracking down on peaceful Syrian demonstrators who had no backing whatsoever from any western government. Indeed, by far the most active ‘hostile foreign force’ in the civil war has been Iran. The Islamic Republic has sent weapons, cash, and troops across the border to help Assad, while on 4 October 2011 Russia and China exercised a rare double veto against a Security Council resolution, which would have threatened the Assad government with targeted sanctions if it continued military actions against protesters. Two more double vetos of possible action followed, ostensibly because the proposals were not ‘balanced’ enough – in other words they endangered the Assad regime.

Bashar al-Assad. Photo: Wikicommons.

Earlier this month the Russians have started air campaigns against enemies of Assad under the cover of ‘fighting terrorism’, including the moderate Free Syrian Army and in the process violating the airspace of Turkey, a NATO member. The People’s Republic, always eager to condemn countries for ‘meddling in internal affairs’ of other nations, has not condemned Russia’s unilateral intervention in the Syrian civil war, nor Iran’s extensive military support for the Assad regime.

Illustrations by Egyptian cartoonist Islam Gawish.

The four million Syrians who have left their country since 2011 are fleeing violence and tyranny. They are fleeing Assad’s barrel bombs. They are fleeing the terror of Islamic State and Assad has cynically allowed the terror group to take over vast sunni-inhabited swathes of his country to bolster his claims. The photos of Aylan Kurdi, the little boy whose body washed up on a Turkish beach on 2 September, triggered a global storm of indignation — also among those ill-informed Chinese who somehow managed to blame his death on the Americans. His family are Kurds from Kobani, the Syrian town that has been heroically fighting off attacks from the Islamic State. In the eyes of China the Kurds must have been ‘undermining stability’ by resisting both the terrorist maniacs and the butcher of Damascus, just as you could say the same of those Syrian protesters – sorry, American running dogs – who refused to submit to extermination by Assad.

Most Syrian refugees have found temporary havens in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, countries that are cracking under the weight of so many displaced. It is not surprising that, as the conflict drags on, many have opted to continue their trek to Europe. Very few try sneaking into Saudi Arabia or other Persian Gulf states, countries with standards of living comparable to Europe’s — presumably because they know that the Gulf monarchies have zero interest in offering them long-term settlement, let alone any political rights. They do not go east or north to geographically far closer countries like Iran or Russia.

And a total of zero Syrians have asked political asylum at any of the Chinese embassies or consulates in the region. Europe offers stability and peace, but Russia, China and Iran boast of their stable and peaceful governments. Could it possibly be that Europe offers them political freedom and guarantees of human rights? Surely not. Those are myths that the People’s Daily unmasks, well, daily.

Photo: Wikicommons.

However, in 2013 alone 9.3 million Chinese voluntarily opted to emigrate from the allegedly stable, moderately wealthy, and meritocratic People’s Republic — a majority of them opting for places like the United States, Canada, Australia, and the European Union, places where their human rights, property rights and freedoms are guaranteed. That is more than twice the total of Syrians currently displaced as a result of ‘western meddling’.

Of course, Syria is not the only country from which people flee. Many of the refugees and displaced currently looking for safety hail from other countries, such as Eritrea, one of the world’s worst dictatorships – and a reliable friend of the People’s Republic. Not even the horrendous American failure to create viable democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq, often touted in the People’s Daily as proof of western folly, seems to have turned Iraqis and Afghans into seekers of Chinese- or Russian-brand ‘stability’. They are using the vote that Lenin said the Russian soldiers used when they deserted from the tsar’s army almost one hundred years ago: they are voting with their feet. They cast their ballots by going to those parts of the world where they know their fundamental rights are most likely to be respected. China, Russia or Iran do not have to worry about an influx of refugees any time soon.

Alexander Zwagerman

Alexander is a lecturer at the Arnhem Business School in the Netherlands and a fellow of the Sima Qian Foundation, advising governments and businesses about how the rise of China affects the global economy. With over ten years of work experience in China, he has written extensively about Chinese business and how free market solutions would solve many of China's problems. He has published books and articles in Dutch and English. On Press Freedom Day 2016 a Dutch collection of his essays was published by Pharos publishers and the proceeds were donated to HKFP.