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Brookings: Xi Jinping’s Africa Policy: The First Year

Author: Yun Sun
April 14, 2014

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"During the first year of the Xi administration, China's policy toward Africa has shown several new trends that illustrate Beijing's evolving priorities and strategies in the continent. These new trends foreseeably will have significant implications for the future of Africa and Sino-Africa relations."

Most strikingly, China under Xi has greatly and assertively enhanced its direct involvement in Africa's security affairs. Two months into Xi's reign, Beijing unprecedentedly dispatched 170 combat troops from the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) Special Force to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali. Compared with China's past tradition of dispatching only non-combat staff such as engineers and medical personnel, this is the first time China sent "combat troops" to a foreign country under a U.N. mandate. It remains to be seen whether the move changes PLA's tacit operating principle of "no troops on foreign soil" given the U.N. authorization and local government consent. Nevertheless, China's choosing Africa to dispatch combat troops for the first time does suggest Beijing's rising interests, enhanced commitment and direct role in maintaining peace and security of Africa.

In another unprecedented but more surprising move, China under Xi engaged in open intervention in the South Sudan conflict through direct mediation. In 2013, China's special envoy for African affairs, Ambassador Zhong Jianhua, paid more than 10 visits to Africa to coordinate positions and mediate the South Sudan issue. Then, in January 2014, in a rare overt political intervention, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi publicly called for an immediate end of hostilities in South Sudan. At Ethiopia's invitation, Wang Yi traveled to Addis Ababa to meet with rebel and government delegations. He openly urged "immediate cessation of hostilities and violence," and publicly called for the international powers to back the Ethiopian-led mediation efforts. Given China's considerable oil stake in the unstable South Sudan (China imported nearly 14 million barrels of oil from South Sudan in the first 10 months of 2013, twice that from Nigeria), many believe that China is gradually abandoning its long-term "non-interference" principle to protect its overseas economic interests.

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