China has joined the United Nations, African Union, and the international community in calling for peace and stability in West Africa’s Mali. Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was ousted and held in hostage by the military after a mutiny, following months of street protests.
At a routine press conference, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian commented that China is paying close attention to the situation in Mali and opposes the change of power through abnormal means, such as the use of force. China supports the efforts of relevant regional and international organizations, especially the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, in finding a peaceful solution to the crisis in Mali. Zhao Lijian also stated that China is calling on all relevant parties in Mali to restore normal order as soon as possible and safeguard national stability and unity.
However, some analysts suggest the implications of this political tension on China-Mali relations, especially Chinese investors. “Peace and stability in Mali are of utmost interest to Chinese companies whose infrastructure building work was interrupted by the conflict,” Lina Benabdallah, an assistant professor of politics and international affairs at Wake Forest University in North Carolina said. The researcher also mentioned that a return to normal would mean lots of infrastructure-building opportunities.
South China-Morning post reported that Chinese companies are building railway links to connect Mali to ports in Dakar, Senegal, and Conakry in Guinea. Beijing signed a memorandum of understanding with Bamako last year to cooperate on the belt and road scheme. A return to normalcy is therefore critical to the success of these projects. Beijing has maintained a ‘non-interference foreign policy’ for several decades, saying that the internal affairs of countries are matters of sovereignty. More than 400 Chinese troops have been stationed in Mali for the last five years as part of an UN-mandated stabilization force.
Africa is a key partner in China’s Belt and Road initiative. Taking into consideration Beijing’s increased economic interest in Africa, is there a future possibility where a military solution will be considered an option to ensure a stable business environment in some parts of the African continent? Will the United States under President Trump’s ‘demilitarisation of Africa’ tempt Beijing to step into the anti-insurgency responsibility shoes in Africa?