China wades into African politics

by Chris Zappone

China was thanked recently in the somewhat ineffective South Sudan peace accord alongside the US, UK, EU, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. While it’s unclear who has been doing the heavy lifting in the diplomatic efforts, China was mentioned in the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement.

In statement by IGAD Executive Secretary Ambassador Maalim, China wasn’t mentioned. Maalim expressed IGAD’s appreciation “to Member States and development partners who have supported the mediation process, particularly the European Union and the Governments of Norway, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (USA) that provided generous support.”

Whatever China’s role in the process, its incentive for getting involved in the African nation is clear. It has invested deeply in oil in the South Sudan and has every incentive to ensure it keeps flowing. That means shrugging off its much-touted non-interventionist principles and taking a seat at the table of another country’s politics.

Even the Global Times admit that “doubts over China’s ‘non-interference’ principle continue.”

The same opinion piece says: “Beijing has to make such a choice. The era in which China could stay silent and exempt itself from crises on remote continents has gone..”

“To the Chinese, the unrest in South Sudan is reminiscent of Libya in 2011. The blitz of the Libyan evacuation of Chinese citizens was not able to outshine the plight and huge losses facing Chinese enterprises in Libya. The lesson was clear: Besides crisis management by Chinese companies, the government has to be involved more in global security issues so as to protect its overseas citizens and assets.”

Importantly, China doesn’t see itself going down the path of the US.

“While Beijing does not seek to copy the US style of intervention, which has led to its predicament in recent years, it still has to carefully craft its policy adjustment of greater engagement with other regions.” The piece concludes that China has to “carefully figure out the regional situation and pursue a cautious approach.”

So much for non-intervention which has been a mantra of sorts for China until now.