Job change in Beijing – Zhong Jianhua is China‟s new “Mr. Africa”

  • Sven Grimm


A change of staff has taken place in China‟s diplomacy towards Africa. Beijing‟s new special representative for African affairs is Zhong Jianhua, former ambassador to South Africa. Even if only five years his predecessor‟s junior, his style is likely to differ. While Liu Guijin came to the task as a trouble-shooter, Zhong‟s task seems to be a normalisation of further China-Africa relations. Trouble might await him, nevertheless, as one would expect for this position. Chinese diplomacy has become much more deeply engaged in Africa and also more routine than they would probably have predicted themselves only ten years ago. Liu Guijin, China‟ first special envoy for Africa, was called into this trouble-shooter position in May 2007. His very nomination illustrated tensions between China‟s orthodox non-interference policy and the expanding expectations towards a global power in the making. In Sudan, China‟s ally Omar al-Bashir was not willing to stop the conflict in Darfur – and not only in the eyes of non-governmental organisations, China increasingly became accomplice to the crime by continuing economic engagement with what they labelled as a „rogue regime‟. The approaching Olympics in Beijing in 2008 created a sense of urgency in Beijing as negative news coverage threatened to overshadow the millennium event in Beijing. Even if (in Chinese understanding) business was business and sports were sports, and bloody politics in Sudan‟s Darfur were something different altogether, Darfur was a crystallisation point for an overlycautious Chinese approach towards African conflicts. The official hands-off approach to anything and everything that happened in Africa was understood as cynical in the West. Contrary to the very rationale of China‟s non-interference doctrine, China was increasingly perceived as party to the conflict in Darfur. The orthodoxy in noninterference diplomatically backfired and Chinese pragmatism was called for in search of a solution. The solution was a diplomat gifted with dexterity and experience on the African continent.