Friday, January 25, 2013

Crisis in Mali Poses Dilemma for China

The occupation of northern Mali by several Islamic extremist groups and the French military intervention poses a problem for China similar to what it faced in Libya but on a smaller scale.  While China had to evacuate almost 36,000 Chinese from Libya, its ambassador in Bamako reports there are only between 1,500 and 1,800 Chinese living in Mali.  The ambassador has instructed Chinese workers near the conflict area to pull back to Bamako and urged Chinese nationals to cancel nonessential travel to Mali.  China is Mali's second largest trading partner just behind France.  In 2011, China exported $327 million worth of goods to Mali and imported $135 million from Mali.

Djingareyber Mosque in Timbuktu.
Flickr/Dave Lantner

Yun Sun, visiting fellow at Brookings in Washington, wrote an analysis on 23 January 2013 titled How China Views France's Intervention in Mali in which she explained that China's response to France's decision to send troops to Mali has been tepid and reserved.  She added that China fears the French response may provide a precedent for the legitimization of "neo-interventionism" in Africa and serve as a challenge to China's principle of non-interference. 

Other Chinese writers have been openly critical of France's intervention while failing to come up with any proposals for ending the inroads by the extremist groups.  He Wenping, director of African Studies at the Institute of West Asian and African Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, published on 22 January 2013 in the Global Times an article titled "Mali: France's New Afghanistan."  She argued that "France's involvement in Mali is still a risky business.  One of the drawbacks of this action is that it brings back memories of the 'African gendarmerie'--France's colonial status."  She added that France may be repeating the missteps of the United States in Afghanistan.

Li Jian and Jin Jing, researchers at China's Naval Military Research Institute, wrote in the Global Times on 22 January 2013 an even more critical commentary that warned of the West's recolonization of Africa.  Curiously, they then called for China to engage more actively in Africa's security mechanisms through the African Union and Economic Community of West African States.  They also urged China to participate in a UN peacekeeping operation in Mali after the war has ended.  Click here to read a translation of their commentary.

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