China in Mali

Ever since the founding of the  People’s Republic of China (PRC) non-intervention has been a cardinal principle of communist regime’s foreign policy. It’s no longer so. They are ready to intervene. China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been weighing the options of sending combat troops on UN missions for the last four years. At the beginning of 2012 China took a preparatory step by sending its infantry to South Sudan, with the task of protecting Chinese medical and engineering personnel there. In other words China is more concerned about its huge investments in a number of African countries. If capital goes abroad, it cannot do it without guns.

Recenlty China has publicly committed combat troops to a UN peacekeeping force in Mali, for the first time, marking a significant shift in Beijing’s foreign policy. With China sending for the first time, fighting forces overseas, China’s contributions in Mali will be complete, with Chinese policemen, medical forces, engineering troops and combat troops. China is already the largest contributor to UN peacekeeping missions among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, having around 1900 personnel deployed, as of December 2012. Beijing’s foreign policy is based on the sacred principles on non-intervention in other countries’ internal affairs and the refusal to use external military force to settle conflicts in other countries. China has now realigned its foreign policy with its expanding global interests. Sending troops to Mali, who might have to fight, is now an accepted policy. After a military offensive aimed at driving out Islamist fighters, France and Chad control more than of Mali’s territory. The UN mission is to take over from France.

Mail, a tiny African nation, is plagued by civil war and Islamic insurgency. But that is not the point at issue. Nobody bothers about the presence of Chinese troops on the Indian side of line of actual control because it is a bilateral border dispute between India and China. But Chinese troops intervening in a foreign country has a different meaning altogether and it attracts international media attention for more than one reason. It’s a matter of time that China will have to follow the same path pursued by the erstwhile Soviet regime which finally brought in enormous bloodshed and disaster for the people of former Soviet Union.

The soldiers’ junta had seized power in a coup in Mail, in March 2012, before theoretically handing it back to civilians. In December 2012, soldiers arrested Mali’s prime minister, Cheizk Modibo Diarra, who later announced his resignation, alongwith his entire government. Diarra has supported foreign intervention in northern Mail, taken over by Islamist militants, tied to al-Qaeda. But Mali’s army opposes foreign involvement, fearing that its power will be eroded; although it is keen to obtain equipment and intelligence. President Dioncounda Traore has appointed Diango Sissoko, an official in the president’s office, as the next prime minister. Earlier Mr Diarra had called for a national conference to find a way out of Mali’s present crisis. The president’s party feared that the conference’s decisions might supersede those of parliament. The army is still in charge. The president is willing to negotiate with the militants in the north.

Vol. 46, No. 3, Jul 28-Aug 3, 2013

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