Reuters interviewed Zhong Jianhua, China’s special representative for African Affairs, in Beijing on 10 February 2014. Michael Martina then wrote an intriguing article titled “South Sudan Marks New Foreign Policy Chapter for China: Official” the following day. The article suggests that China may be changing its policy on conflicts in Africa.
Zhong told Reuters that “China should be engaging more in peace and security solutions for any conflict” in South Sudan. He added that this “is a challenge for China. This is something new for us…It is a new chapter for Chinese foreign affairs.” The article suggested there are signs that China is ready to put more pressure on Juba to avoid a return to fighting if a deal is reached among conflicting parties. Zhong said China would proceed cautiously and offered few details how China would expand its role. He emphasized that the situation calls for an African solution by African parties. He also refused to take a position on the involvement of Ugandan forces in South Sudan.
It is too early to tell whether Ambassador Zhong’s comments foretell a real change in China’s policy on efforts to resolve conflict in African countries where China has significant interests at stake. At a minimum, however, China’s actions in South Sudan merit close attention as they may signal a break with the past.