French intervention in Mali evokes reactions from Asian powers
France’s military intervention in Mali has evoked mixed reactions from major Asian countries. In today’s post, we highlight commentary from China, India, Japan and Russia.
Chinese reactions have been called “at most tepid and reserved” by Yun Sun, a Chinese visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.
- Officially, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has expressed support for the deployment of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2085.
- French intervention, however, is evoking concern. As He Wenping, director of African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, wrote in a Global Times op-ed: “China has certain interests in Mali through its investment projects. It is not necessarily a bad thing for China if France’s decision to send in troops can stabilize the situation in this West African country. However, despite all the potential benefits, there is one possible cause for alarm – French forces’ involvement in Mali will provide the case for legalization of a new interventionism in Africa.”
In contrast, Indian commentary has (uncharacteristically) mostly supported French intervention and larger efforts to combat terrorism.
- The Hard Nationalist Pioneer praised the French military effort at the end of last month as “seem[ing] to be a hugely successful effort to push back the Islamists and destroy their latest terror haven.
- The Times of India also emphasized the need to tackle terrorism: “North Africa hasn`t become another Afghanistan as yet. It is the African people that must ultimately fight the battle against Islamist militancy and strengthen democratic institutions. The international community must consolidate its efforts towards that end and provide aid and material support to the people of Mali and other north African nations to fight the scourge of terrorism.”
- The Indian Express, however, sounded a cautionary note: “As Iraq and Afghanistan have taught the US, interventions risk military mission creep and stalemate. Yet, this French adventurism is interesting at a time when the US, under the “Obama Doctrine”, seems reluctant to plunge in. The backlash, arguably, might be worse than the problem.””
- On a related note, French President Francois Hollande is scheduled to visit India this week, and an op-ed in The Hindu pointed to his decision on Mali as a sign of a strong leader. The Indian Express also reports that France has kept India informed of its actions in Mali, ahead of Hollande’s visit.
In retaliation against France’s intervention in Mali, militants in Algeria seized dozens of hostages at an international managed gas field in late January, leading to the death of 10 Japanese employees amongst others.
- The deaths triggered mixed views on Japan’s role in North Africa and on the global stage
- Toshio Tamogami, a retired general, argued that it is time to “drop the legal constraints that prevent Japan’s military from foreign intervention.”
- Naoto Amaki, Japan’s former ambassador to Lebanon, opposed Japan taking up arms against Islamic radicals. “An armed response to terrorists will elevate the dangers and…adopting a tough stance will spawn more risks.”
- The Asahi Shimbun described the stabilization of Mali as “indispensable,” but warned that “for the African continent to move toward sustainable development, dealing with the Mali conflict must not set off a new negative chain reaction of terrorism and violence.” Another article added that “Japan’s contributions to the elimination of the breeding ground of terrorism will improve the nation’s security in the long run.”
In Russia, editorials noted that the Malian conflict provides Russia with an opportunity to strengthen its presence in the region.
- The state-run RIA Novosti cited a deeply-rooted Soviet legacy in Mali as cause for Russian interest in the current conflict. For decades, the Soviet Union trained Mali’s officials and intelligentsia, developing local infrastructure and mapping the country’s abundant natural resources. Among those educated in the Soviet Union include the interim president of Mali, Dioncounda Traore, and his predecessor, the ousted Amadou Tomani Toure. “Time is running out: As Soviet-educated elites reach retirement age, the new generation of Malian leaders and officials may not be as amenable to cooperation with Russia.”
- Alexander Yakovenko, Russian ambassador to the United Kingdom, wrote, “Russia strongly condemns the actions of the extremists and separatists in Mali who are destabilizing the whole region” and added, “the military operation in Mali should be accompanied by the launch of apolitical dialogue in order to ensure constitutional order is restored.”
- Russian-daily Kommersant reported that “Experts believe that the discontent that certain African leaders feel regarding the West’s interference in military and political crises in Africa gives Moscow a chance to strengthen its geopolitical influence in the region.”