If the U.S. and Europe and other sponsors of a resolution were serious about a multilateral initiative to exert pressure on China, it was essential that they bring some African members of the commission on board. Admittedly, it would not have been an easy task, given Chinese diplomatic initiatives and interests in the region, but save for some modest measures in 1994 like U.S. National Security Adviser Anthony Lake's discussions (see above), the sponsors put little energy into finding support from African governments.
China, on the other hand, was energetic. Since the end of the Cold War, it has seen African countries as critically important allies, particularly in the United Nations, in the struggle against American "hegemonism."8 With its history of colonialism and the fact that for the North, it had become the "forgotten continent," Africa has been viewed as a desirable partner in China's efforts to "bypass" the United States.9 In addition, China had a strong interest in stepping up its diplomacy in the region to counter Taiwan's aggressive campaign to expand ties with some African states.
China embarked on a concerted diplomatic campaign in Africa in mid-1995. Although the main objective may have been to blunt Taiwan's influence, it may not be coincidential that the campaign began after China lost a no-action motion and nearly lost the resolution in Geneva in March 1995, or that the countries singled out in this campaign were also for the most part members of the commission.
In October-November 1995, well before the 1996 session of the commission convened, Li Lanqing traveled to six central and western African countries: Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Gabon, Cameroon and Côte d'Ivoire. Of these, all but Senegal were members of the commission. In November, Qiao Shi, a leading member of the Central Committee and chairman of Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress (China's parliament), went to Egypt, another key member of the commission. All the countries included in these two visits voted with China in the April 1996 "no-action" motion.
By contrast, from September 1995 to March 1996 there were few high-level exchanges between the U.S. and African members of the commission, and when they took place, China was not on the agenda. Angolan president Dos Santos made a state visit to Washington, D.C. on December 8, 1995, for example, but amid the many issues on the U.S.-Angolan agenda, support for a critical position in the U.N. toward China's human rights practices was reportedly not one. Madeleine Albright, then U.S. ambassador to the U.N., visited Angola in January 1996, but apparently made no effort to press for Angola's support at the Human Rights Commission. Angola ranks fourth among China's African trading partners and has consistently voted with China at the Human Rights Commission. If the U.S. was serious about generating international pressure on China through the U.N., its officials would have seen the visits by its officials as an opportunity to put multilateralism into practice and raise the issue of a resolution in Geneva.
Ethiopia, a key member of the commission, exchanged visits with European and American officials, with development assistance and security the main issues at stake. German President Herzog visited Ethiopia in January 1996, during which he signed an aid agreement for the purchase and transport of fertilizers, and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi spent two days in Paris, meeting with the French prime minister and with President Chirac. In neither case was there any indication that the China vote was on the agenda, and a source close to the U.S. delegation to Geneva told Human Rights Watch that no attempt was made to lobby Ethiopia for its vote.
China appeared to have stepped up its efforts to ensure a similar victory in the 1997 session. Following the end of the 1996 commission meeting in April, all fifteen African members of the commission sent or received high-ranking visitors from China. In May 1996, according to Chinese reports, President Jiang himself "crossed a thousand mountains and rivers to enhance friendship, deepen unity and learn from the African people," visiting a total of six countries as he covered the continent "from North to South, from East to West." Of the six countries, four, Ethiopia, Egypt, Mali and Zimbabwe, were members or about to become members of the commission. At a meeting of the Organization of African States, Jiang stressed that China would be an ally in Africa's drive to develop; and, in fact, over twenty-three agreements and protocols on Sino-African cooperation were signed in May alone. They primarily provided for basic construction projects in transport and energy.10
* During meetings in Beijing in May 1996, two days before he left for his African tour, President Jiang pledged economic and military support for Mozambique, which rotated on to the commission in time for the 1997 session; at the same time, Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian discussed details of the bilateral ties between the two nations' militaries and provided Mozambique with quantities of new weapons. Sino-Mozambiquan relations went into a tailspin in 1996 when China abruptly pulled out of an agreement to build a new parliament building. The visit in May was an effort to repair relations but it could also help produce a pro-China vote in the commission this March.
* Jiang Zemin was present in Zimbabwe in May 1996 when Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Wu Yi signed agreements for US$10 million in grants and an additional US$10 million in loans, as well as other agreements on trade, reciprocal protection of investment and technological and economic cooperation. Earlier an agricultural group from China studied the possibilities of importing cotton and tobacco from Zimbabwe. In 1995, the first time Zimbabwe voted on a China resolution in Geneva, it voted for the no-action motion and against the China resolution; in 1996 it again voted in favor of no action on China.
* Following Jiang Zemin's May 1996 visit to Mali, China signed agreements on economic and technological cooperation during meetings in Beijing between Premier Li Peng and Mali's president, and the Chinese vice-minister of agriculture signed an agreement to assist Mali in building a number of factories. In 1996, when Mali voted on the China question for the first time, it voted in favor of the no-action motion.
* Jiang Zemin also traveled to Ethiopia in May on a good will visit during which four cooperation agreements were signed. China-Ethiopian economic relations have been minimal compared with China's relationships with other African countries. Before Jiang's visit, Chinese journalists made much of an Ethiopian irrigation project completed with help from thirty-eight Chinese experts. In 1990, Ethiopia voted for a no-action motion and then went off the commission until 1995, when it voted in favor of the no-action motion but abstained when the resolution itself was voted on. In 1996 it again voted in favor of no action.
* Algeria was already considered in the China camp. Jiang Zemin and the president of Algeria met in Beijing in October to discuss bilateral relations and to sign six documents including one protecting and encouraging reciprocal investment. Algeria has had a strong and continuous relationship with China which helped with a heavy water research reactor, and has been involved in irrigation, agricultural, and research projects including a three-star hotel in Algiers. In January 1997, Foreign Minister Qian Qichen paid a quick visit to Algeria, meeting with the foreign minister to discuss strengthening bilateral cooperation.
* Uganda became a member of the commission in time to vote with China on the 1996 no-action motion. While the commission was still meeting in April 1996, Li Zhaoxin, China's vice-minister of foreign affairs,agreed to provide US$3.6 million to cover the costs of a national stadium. In January 1997, at the request of the Ugandan government, China agreed to send technical personnel for two years to provide guidance in connection with the stadium project.
* Li Peng and the president of Gabon, meeting in Beijing in August 1996, stressed the importance of their relationship and their support for the rights of developing nations. Gabon abstained in 1992 on a no-action motion but has since voted solidly in the Chinese camp.
* When Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Tian Zengpei met with the Guinean Foreign Affairs Minister in Guinea in April while the commission meeting was still in session, he thanked him for Guinea's support on the human rights issue. Guinea, a new member of the commission as of the 1996 session, voted for no action on the China resolution.
* During a visit to South Africa, China's largest trading partner in Africa, in May 1996, Wu Yi negotiated promises of expanded trade ties and reciprocal "most favored nation trading status." The importance of China to South Africa's economy was underscored in December 1996 when President Nelson Mandela abruptly abandoned diplomatic support for Taiwan and recognized Beijing as the sole representative of China.
* Buhe, the vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress paid a goodwill visit to Benin in December 1996. Although Benin had voted with China in 1996, it abstained on both the no-action motion and the resolution itself in 1995.
Both the timing and the high-profile nature of most of these exchanges highlight the likely difficulties of getting African countries to abstain on a China resolution, let alone vote in favor, in 1997. If the U.S. and Europe had been committed to seeing a resolution pass, both would have had to have engaged in intensive lobbying beginning in late 1996.8 "Profit and Prejudice: China in Africa," China News Analysis, No.1574, December 15, 1996, p. 6. 9 "Profit and Prejudice: China in Africa," China News Analysis, No.1574, December 15, 1996, p. 6. 10 "Profit and Prejudice: China in Africa," China News Analysis, No.1574, December 15, 1996, p. 3.