Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mali, the Chinese Military, and the Chinese People

EDIT: Some of the translations could be better, thanks to Kaiser Kuo for catching that, and the error was mine for not reading properly. I also modified the ending.

Tendai Musakwa put up another must-read translation on the China Africa Project, this time detailing what some in the Chinese military think about France's intervention into Mali, as well as the Chinese netizen reaction.

The current chaos in Mali has the potential to throw the whole Sahara region into chaos, which would undoubtedly have a negative influence on our country’s interests. It is important to recognize that China is Mali's biggest trading partner. We must look at the situation from a broad, global perspective, and carefully consider how we can safeguard the national interests that China has developed in this complex and disorderly region. 
First, we should be on the guard against the West’s recolonization of Africa... 
In recent years, it seems that Western powers have systematically and gradually embarked on the re-colonization of Africa. For example, Western powers instigated and supported the secession of South Sudan, dividing Africa’s largest oil-producing country. Western powers also took control of Nigeria’s oil producing areas through international court rulings. In addition, Western powers directly deployed troops to depose Gaddafi’s regime in Libya.

If we consider the French military presence in Africa in light of the revelation at the end of last year that American troops are stationed in 35 African countries, it is possible to see that the West is tightly monitoring the entire African continent. The strategic thinking of the West is to continue to have colonies and powerful spheres of influence, and to continue to hold military operations [in Africa]. Africa has already become the world’s most important origin of natural resources, and will soon become an important emerging market for industrial products. In order to ensure the sustainable development of China’s economy, we should carefully consider bringing our own strategic positions in Africa into play.
As someone who was expecting a "broad, global perspective", it was rather jarring to see the claim being made that France's actions are part of a nefarious Western plot to recolonize Africa and contain China. I suppose that the U.S. and Europe always march in lockstep, especially when dealing with Africa, or something to that effect. Those statements are particularly shocking when one considers that the authors are calling for the following:
We should actively and steadily participate in regional security affairs. As China is Mali’s largest trading partner, some Western media have said that we are the biggest beneficiaries of France’s interference in Mali and therefore if we don’t deploy troops to Mali, then we “should” give money towards the war effort. We must keep a cool head in spite of these statements. The call to deploy troops is an attempt to manipulate us. The West will not allow us to get involved in its traditional sphere of influence, and deploying troops would also conflict with the guiding principle of our foreign affairs. The call to give money is also an attempt to take advantage of us. 
However, to protect our own interests, we should actively and steadily participate in African safety affairs. First, we should actively participate in planning the development of Africa’s security mechanisms. If invited by the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, we can work with France and the US in developing a unified, common-responsibility mechanism to maintain the security, stability and sustainable development of the sub-Saharan region. In such a mechanism, we should focus on our strengths in economic construction, and place emphasis on livelihood issues and infrastructure improvement. Through this, we can present ourselves as a constructive, cooperative and responsible major power. 
Second, we should actively participate in UN-authorized peacekeeping operations in Africa...
I am not as well-versed in the worldview of the Chinese military as others, but the combination of sober  real-world analysis and comically paranoid accusations strikes me as fairly typical of how the Chinese military views foreign policy. One the one hand, they are cognizant of the fact that they are being watched and expected to act as responsible global actors. On the other hand, anything short of effusive praise of China is an attack. More on that later, I wanted to quickly look at some of the comments:
p:123.58.*.*: Africa has a lot of resources, which have supported China’s development over the past few years. However, Africa’s regimes are all unstable. This has led to great losses for China, and made it such that China cannot guarantee the stability of its supply of resources. China should be more bold [and send troops to Africa]. (Published 2013-01-21 09:52:47) 
平民公民: We should quickly construct overseas military bases. It will not do to not have a solid foothold [in Africa]. 
宇宙星空: At this point in our development, we must think globally. Africa is strategically very important to China. We must participate in the fight over it and must not lose.
Mali is not Japan. There is no historical wound to be avenged. That netizens are calling for armed interventions into Africa just based on economic interests is, for me, quite significant. One, it points to the fact that people in China expect the PRC to throw its weight around in order to protect its economic commitments, rather than to honor its diplomatic ones (China's so-called "non-interference"). Two, if China were to intervene militarily, there would be support among its citizens. If the Chinese Communist Party, in a crisis of legitimacy, needed a war to mollify it's citizens but not lose too much diplomatic standing, putting boots in the ground in Africa would fulfill both requirements.

Claiming that China would go to war in an African country is certainly a bold statement, but not outside the realm of possibility. In Christopher Ford's recent observations on the Fourth Xiangshan Forum, he explained the logic of Chinese "non-interference":
As requirements for eliminating regional distrust, for instance, it was declared that Japan must revise its historical education curriculum for primary and secondary education in order properly to depict the wrongs the country did to China in the past, that Japan must pass laws prohibiting honoring war criminals, and that Japan must push right-wing parties out of national politics. They insisted that these things had to change in Japan as a prerequisite for future strategic trust. 
I raised this point in the open plenary session, asking why our Chinese hosts did not consider such insistence to be “interference” in Japan’s “internal” affairs. In response, a well-known PLA general explained that it was not “interference” in another state’s “internal affairs” for Beijing to make demands about how other states view and depict China and their own history in the Asia-Pacific region, because these things affect China. (I was told, for example, that the “right deviation” in Japanese politics needs to be suppressed – and it is proper for the PRC to demand this – because right-wing politics in Japan bear upon Sino-Japanese relations.) Such things have external effects, and therefore are not “internal” affairs; China may make demands with regard to matters that “affect China.”
China is a large and important country. That means that there are a lot of things that will affect it. As mentioned earlier, the PRC can be quite prickly about how it perceives its interactions. China has been quite pragmatic in it's dealings with African countries, and all governments have inherent tensions among their different branches, but if ever there were a major fissure, the People's Liberation Army would probably have the ear of senior decision-makers. 

Perhaps it is a stretch to use three quotes from the comments section in the Chinese version of the Global Times as a sign for broad approval of Chinese military action over a perceived slight. Perhaps this quote would have been more appropriate:
ip:60.4.*.* : You can tell just from looking at the title that this is one of the Global Times’ bullshit articles. (Published 2013-01-21 10:16:57)
In any case, the Chinese reaction is worth watching.


  1. There's a significant mistranslation in this CAP translation: 马里最大的外贸伙伴是中国 gets translated incorrectly as "Mali is China's biggest trading partner," which is of course absurd and should read "China is Mali's largest trade partner." Good that you back off at the end from the conclusion that netizen comments on a piece like that are representative. God help us if comments on Yahoo! news were truly representative of American public opinion.

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  4. I thought that sounded funny, but I just thought it was a little theatrical phrasing on the part of the commentator, I did not bother to go to the original Chinese, so thank you for catching that, I will change it right away.

    While a lot of internet comments in the U.S. are pretty awful, I do think they reflect a not insubstantial portion of U.S. opinion, misguided as it can be sometimes. I think we still have like 20% of the population who believe Obama is not a U.S. citizen and another 20% who are not sure. And, of course, some of those people are elected representatives... In short, these sort of comments are valuable.

    Finally, in my limited experience, the Chinese state can manipulate anti-foreign sentiments quite well (whether they are such feelings are there to begin with is the topic of another discussion) and I see no reason how the state could not turn a war into popular policy (if the U.S. can do so, why not China ;) ). I do not know whether China will inevitably send soldiers to an African country, but if they were to do so, wouldn't it help at home? As Tendai said, there are many smart, sensitive, worldly Chinese people out there, and it is not uncommon to hear such people say they want China to flex its military muscle.