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C3S CW Special: An Overview of China’s Mediation Efforts across the Globe; By PS Vaishnavi

Reviewed by Sruthi Sadhasivam, Research Officer, C3S.

Image Courtesy: East India Forum

Article: 25/2024


China historically has claimed to follow a policy of non-intervention, emphasising on sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations. This principle has been a significant part of Chinese foreign policy, motivated by its own historical experiences. However, with the expansion of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China's role on the global stage has evolved, leading to a more proactive stance in international affairs. The BRI, which aims to enhance global connectivity and economic integration through vast infrastructure and investment projects, has driven China to take a more active role in mediating conflicts and promoting stability in key regions. Realising that political instability can threaten its economic interests, China has increasingly engaged in diplomatic efforts to resolve disputes. This paper seeks to explore China’s mediation efforts across the globe. 


A Backgrounder to China’s Attempts at Mediation 


China's increasing mediation efforts on the global stage are driven by a combination of strategic, economic, and ideological motivations. The Council of Foreign Relations estimates that China has invested over a trillion dollars in BRI projects.  Stability of these regions and creating stable markets are vital for safeguarding current investments and promoting future investment opportunities for Chinese enterprises. Apart from its economic interests China’s efforts to international mediation can also be seen as a part of its larger geopolitical ambitions. The Global Security Initiative (GSI) reflects China's ambition to shape global security norms, presenting itself as a stable alternative to Western models. Geopolitically, China aims to counterbalance US influence, ensuring regional dominance in East Asia while expanding its footprint globally. In its outreach to the Global South, China seeks to build alliances and secure resources, positioning itself as a champion of developing nations. Under this it aims to conduct bilateral and multilateral security cooperation with all countries and international and regional organisations. China has also pledged to promote “political settlement of international and regional hotspot issues under the premise of non-interference in internal affairs.” 


China’s Mediation Efforts in South Asia


  1. China’s mediation between India and Pakistan:


Chinese Ambassador to India, Luo Zhaohui, in 2017 proposed that China mediate between India and Pakistan, on mutual acceptance by both parties. The conflict between the nations centres on the longstanding territorial and political disputes over Kashmir. This suggestion underscores China's interest in regional stability, which is crucial for its economic and strategic interests, particularly the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $46 billion project integral to the BRI, which passes through the disputed region of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). 

Despite Luo's promise of neutrality, China's deep ties with Pakistan and significant investments suggest a vested interest in the outcomes. The Shaksgam Valley in the trans-Karakoram tract, part of PoK, was handed over by Pakistan to China in a 1963 border agreement which was not welcomed by India. China also  has border disputes with India over the Aksai Chin region of Kashmir. Therefore China also seeks territorial gains via mediating between its neighbours. The proposal however did not lead to an official mediation as both the parties are yet to form a consensus on third party mediation.


  1. China’s mediation in Afghanistan:


The Taliban and the Afghan government were in conflict with each other, which was complicated by the withdrawal of NATO forces in 2021 and the subsequent Taliban takeover. China began its mediation efforts around 2015, hosting various Afghan political parties for discussions. China maintains friendly relations with both the Afghan government and the Taliban and does not have major historical involvement in the Afghan conflict in contrast to the US and Russia and thus is seen as a neutral actor. The mediation process included hosting Taliban representatives, engaging in diplomatic talks between the two, and collaborating with Pakistan, which also holds major interest in the region. China's interests are multifaceted, involving security concerns, strategic regional stability, and potential economic investments under the Belt and Road Initiative. China’s mediation didn't bring in the desired results, as the Taliban took control of the nation. 


China’s Mediation Efforts in East and Southeast Asia


  1. China’s Mediation efforts in Myanmar


The conflict in Myanmar involves the State Administration Council (SAC) military regime and various opposition groups, including the Three Brotherhood Alliance (3BHA) and the National Unity Government, following the 2021 military coup. China's interest in mediating this conflict can be rooted in its  strategic need to implement the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) and secure its oil and gas pipelines. The two parallel oil and gas pipelines traversing Myanmar from Rakhine State in the southwest to Shan State in the northeast are a part of China’s solution to resolving its Malacca Dilemma. (Sithu, 2024).  


Additionally, China engages in its immediate neighbourhood to prevent refugee flows into its territory, which could create social and economic burden. As China ratified the 1951 refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol, in September 1982,  they are bound to follow the principle of Non-refoulement (a principle where host countries cannot “return refugees to a country where they face a real risk of persecution, torture, or other serious harm”). Refugees would be a hindrance to the sinicization agenda, a process by which non-Chinese societies or groups are acculturated or assimilated into Chinese culture, particularly the language, societal norms, culture, and ethnic identity of the Han Chinese. In that sense, it will be an added burden and even bigger a task for China to sinicise the refugees given their varied cultural backgrounds, national and religious affiliations. 


China began its mediation efforts following the coup in 2021, engaging with both the SAC and opposition groups. The mediation process included diplomatic engagements, attempts to broker ceasefires, and negotiating with ethnic armed organisations. However the mediation has not yet been successful with ongoing instability and violent clashes between the parties.


  1. China’s Mediation Efforts in North Korea 


North Korea's nuclear weapons program has been opposed by the international community leading to significant tensions and sanctions. China historically has a good  relationship with North Korea, characterised by  alliances, economic aid, and strategic interests.  In 2020, China’s share of North Korea’s trade stood at 88.2% (Matamis, 2024).  It has opposed harsh international sanctions on North Korea in the hope of “avoiding regime collapse and a refugee influx across the 1400 km China-North Korea border” (Albert & Fong, 2019). 


As a mediator, China has facilitated dialogues between North Korea and other countries,  encouraging de-escalation and negotiations. This mediation further emphasises on China’s stance against sanctions as a means to resolve conflicts. Outcomes of China's mediation have been mixed, with some success in reducing immediate tensions, but challenges remain due to US-North Korea tensions and South Korea's security concerns.


China’s Mediation efforts in West Asia 


  1. Brokering Saudi-Iran Peace Deal


China successfully brokered the peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran. These two nations, which have had a long history of conflict, are crucial players in West Asia, a region important to the BRI due to its strategic location and energy resources. The Saudi-Iran conflict is a long-standing geopolitical and religious  rivalry between Saudi Arabia, a  Sunni Muslim nation, and Iran, a Shia Muslim nation. This conflict has fueled proxy wars and tensions throughout the Middle East, for political influence, religious leadership, and control over strategic areas like the Persian Gulf thus, impacting regional stability. 


China’s role is more faciliatory than mediatory, Beijing is more interested in laying the political groundwork and providing political and logistical support to make the dialogue happen than setting agendas or designing or promoting a specific resolution to the conflict itself (Whitfield, 2024).  China also refrains from interference under the pretext of protecting human rights or promoting democracy (Alghannam, 2024). By helping to reduce tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, China aims to create a more stable regional environment. This stability is vital for the success of BRI infrastructure projects, such as ports and railways, as it reduces risks and promotes a climate of trust and cooperation, benefiting all countries involved in the initiative.


  1. China’s Mediation efforts between Hamas and Fatah 


China’s GSI calls for the implementation of the five-point proposal on realising peace and stability in West Asia, including advocating mutual respect, upholding equity and justice, realising non-proliferation, jointly fostering collective security, and accelerating development cooperation. Israel-Palestine conflict has been a major hotspot issue affecting the region’s stability. 


China has proposed to mediate the Israel-Palestine conflict. It had made a similar attempt in 2017, which did not yield the desired results. Palestinian front itself is divided into 2 major fractions Fatah (governing authority of the West Bank) and Hamas (governing authority of  the Gaza Strip), making it difficult for mediation. The conflict intensified after Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, leading to violent clashes and a split in governance in 2007. The conflict further escalated after the October 7 attacks, where in Fatah blamed Hamas for the war in Gaza. 


The US as a State actor recognises Hamas as a terror outfit and imposed sanctions on it but China refused to condemn Hamas as a terrorist organisation and has historically maintained good relations with both the fronts. China thus was able to conduct the first round of talks between Fatah and Hamas in April 2024. The results of the mediation efforts are yet to be seen as the second round of talks is scheduled in June.   


China’s Mediation efforts in Africa 


  1. China’s mediation efforts in Mali


The conflict in Mali arised due to struggle between the Malian government and various insurgent groups, such as Tuareg separatists and Islamist militants, fueled by ethnic tensions and political instability. China’s mediation in Mali also saw more focus on economic development rather than direct military involvement, a method used by the traditional players France and USA. The mediation process involved diplomatic engagements, economic incentives, and support for local peace initiatives. 


While China's mediation has not led to a complete resolution of the conflict, it has contributed to ongoing dialogue and development efforts. Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China would help implement more schemes such as the Mali Digital project and the African Solar Belt programme to help promote the peace and development process in Mali. The likelihood of Beijing being involved in mediation was high where Chinese commercial interests were high. This was the case in Darfur, Sudan, where China has oil and energy security interests (Nyabiage, 2024).


  1. China’s mediation Efforts in Niger 


The conflict between Niger and Benin involves a long-standing territorial dispute, particularly concerning a 2013 ruling by the International Court of Justice which ruled several islands in the Niger River to Niger. This issue has led to violent clashes and strained relations between the two countries. Since Niger is a landlocked country and its oil exports are dependent on its neighbours, peace between Niger and Benin is crucial for safeguarding China’s  interests in the region.  


China National Petroleum Corporation has invested US$4.6 billion in Niger’s petroleum industry, and its subsidiary PetroChina owns two-thirds of the country’s Agadem oilfield. It also bankrolled and built a 2,000km pipeline to move oil from the oilfield to Benin’s  port of Seme (Nyabiage, 2024). Though the border dispute is yet to be resolved completely, China managed to restore diplomatic relations between the countries. Benin agreed to allow Niger to export its oil via the former’s port, which was previously banned due to the territorial dispute and thus safeguarding China’s investments and oil imports. 


  1. China’s mediation between Djibouti and Eritrea


The Djibouti-Eritrea border conflict began in 2008,  over the Ras Doumeira region. In July 2017, China offered to mediate between the two countries, showcasing its interest in maintaining regional stability critical for its economic interests, particularly the strategic Djibouti port, its first overseas military base​. As a neutral party with no direct involvement in the conflict, China's mediation process included facilitating dialogue and offering development aid. However, the mediation failed to bring consensus due to deep rooted historical and political tensions.


China’s mediation efforts in the Horn of Africa:


On June 20, 2022 China sponsored its first-ever Horn of Africa Peace, Good Governance, and Development Conference in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. This initiative, led by China's Special Envoy Xue Bing, highlights Beijing's intent to position itself as a key player in regional security and development. The Horn of Africa is geographically important due to its proximity to key maritime routes such as the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, which are vital for global trade and energy supplies. 


The conference however did not yield the stated goals. The complexity and interconnectedness of both intra- and interstate conflicts, along with the pervasive insecurity, renders the task of building durable peace and security in the region rather difficult (Mishra, 2022). Despite the limited success of the conference China aims to play a more proactive role in the region to safeguard its strategic investments in resources and infrastructure, overseas assets and citizens. 


  1. China’s Mediation efforts in Ethiopia


An example of China's strategic interest in promoting regional stability can be seen in its mediation efforts in Ethiopia.  In 2022 China launched the "Outlook on Peace and Development in the Horn of Africa" aimed to facilitate peace processes in the region including the conflict in Ethiopia (Nantulya, 2022). For China, stability in Ethiopia is crucial to safeguard its national interests, which include the protection of its investments and infrastructure projects under the BRI such as the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway. 


In that sense, China has facilitated discussions between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The conflict in Ethiopia is between the federal government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which escalated into a full-scale war in November 2020 after tensions over political control and governance. The conflict has led to a humanitarian crisis and widespread displacement in the Tigray region. 


Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang , during talks with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in his visit to Ethiopia, pledged to support post-conflict reconstruction, and create a stable environment conducive to economic development. China emphasises on economic development as a key to stability. China terms poverty as the main source of conflict and instability. China argues that economic development provides the foundation for political legitimacy even without democratic elections, and that development and stability are complementary (Whitfield, 2024).  


  1. China mediation efforts in Sudan:


The conflict in Sudan is primarily between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), emerging from a power struggle and failure to integrate RSF into the regular military. China is interested in mediating this conflict due to its significant investments in Sudan's oil industry and its broader strategic interests in Africa. China's mediation process in Sudan has included facilitating dialogue between conflicting parties and supporting ceasefire agreements. China's approach also involves offering economic incentives to encourage peace and stability. 


China had also been involved in the meditation process in Darfur. The Darfur conflict began in 2003 and the conflicting parties were  the Sudanese government and rebel groups such as the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). 


The mediation process included promoting dialogue between the conflicting parties, supporting peacekeeping missions, and providing humanitarian aid to the region. The success of China's mediation has been limited while its involvement has brought few development projects to Darfur, the conflict still persists. 



China’s Mediation efforts in Europe


  1. China’s Mediation efforts in the Ukraine crisis 


China aims to portray its model of conflict resolution as an alternative to the US. It opposed US sanctions on Iran and also blamed the US led NATO as the main driver of the Ukraine-Russia war. China refused to blame Russia as the aggressor and even backed out from the Ukraine peace conference in Switzerland as Russia was not invited.  Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said "China has always insisted that an international peace conference should be endorsed by both Russia and Ukraine, with the equal participation of all parties.”


China has proposed a 12 point peace plan for resolving the war in Ukraine. There has been no progress in peace efforts as neither of the parties are willing to negotiate. While the conflict is mutually detrimental, there is no clear battlefield stalemate or strategic impasse that would necessitate immediate negotiations (Korolev, 2023). 


Conclusion


China's emergence as a key player in international mediation marks a shift in its foreign policy approach, from a longstanding policy of non-intervention to proactive engagement in conflict resolution, China's involvement reflects its growing global influence and strategic interests, particularly under initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative.  While economic and strategic interests remain central to China's mediation efforts globally, when it comes to its engagements in its immediate neighbourhood China is motivated by the desire to prevent refugee flows into its territory.


While its major efforts at conflict negotiations has been unsuccessful, China still persists on developing an alternative model to the US led order, challenging the US hegemony and promoting its vision of global security with Chinese characteristics. The major difference in China's approach from the US-led peace negotiations is its emphasis on non-intervention and respect for sovereignty. Unlike the United States, which often promotes democracy and intervenes in the internal affairs of other nations stating human rights protection, China refrains from imposing its political system on others and glorifying its political philosophy principles as the ideal ones. Instead, China’s approach towards mediation across the world, especially in BRI countries, are centred around stability and economic development over democratisation, viewing economic growth as the foundation for peace.



China’s mediation efforts across the globe 


Year 

Country/ Region 

Conflicting Parties

Others

Status 

1.

2023

Africa

Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF)


Limited Success

2.

2023

Africa


Successful 

3.

2022

Africa


Limited Success

4.

2022

Africa


Horn of Africa Peace, Good Governance, and Development Conference

Un-successful

5.

2021

Africa


Limited Success 

6.

2017

Africa 


Un-successful

7.

2011

Africa


Limited Success 

8.

2023

Europe


Ongoing

9.

2017

South Asia


Un-

successful 

10.

2018

South Asia

Bangladesh and Myanmar (Rohingya refugee crisis)


Un-Successful 

11.

2014

South Asia

  1. Afghanistan government and Taliban


  1. Afghanistan and Pakistan


Un-

successful 

12.

2021

South East Asia

Myanmar:  State Administration Council (SAC), the military junta and various ethnic armed organisations (EAOs


Un-successful

13.

2003

East Asia


Un-successful

14.

2024

West Asia


Ongoing 

15.

2023

West Asia


Proposed 

16.

2023

West Asia


Successful 

17.

2023

World


Ongoing


References


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  2. Golod, V. (2024, February 1). Is China Sincere About Peace in Ukraine? Foreign Policy.https://foreignpolicy.com/2024/01/29/china-ukraine-russia-war-peace-mediation-grain/

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  8. Mishra, A. (2022, July 5). China’s conflict mediation in the Horn of Africa: Only rhetoric or practical? Orfonline.org. https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/china-conflict-mediation-in-the-horn-of-africa

  9. Nantulya, P. (2022, October 12). China’s Diplomacy in the Horn—Conflict Mediation as Power Politics. Africa Center for Strategic Studies. https://africacenter.org/spotlight/china-diplomacy-horn-conflict-mediation-power-politics/

  10. Nyabiage, J. (2024, May 21). After talks with China, Benin eases oil export ban against Niger. South China Morning Post. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3263395/after-talks-china-benin-eases-oil-export-ban-against-niger 

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  3. Sithu. (2024, April 26). China’s Engagement with the Myanmar Junta: A High Cost, Low Returns Deal. FULCRUM. https://fulcrum.sg/chinas-engagement-with-the-myanmar-junta-a-high-cost-low-returns-deal/

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Rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas meet in China. (2024, April 30). Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/4/30/china-says-palestinian-rivals-hamas-and-fatah-met-for-talks-in-beijing 



(PS Vaishnavi is a Research Intern at C3S. She is pursuing her Masters in International Studies at Stella Maris College for Women. her research interest include BRI and political economy. The views expressed are those of the author and does not reflect the views of C3S)

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