China and the peace process in Colombia

Popular protests in Colombia have been ongoing since late April 2023. Its scope expanded during the last period, after it claimed more lives. Colombia is witnessing extraordinary events during the recent period, and it seems that this country, which US President Joe Bide” considered a pivotal part of US foreign policy in Latin America and the Caribbean, is heading east, specifically towards the Chinese axis. China has been active in Latin American issues and resolving the conflict in Colombia, after the election of the new leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the selection of Chinese President Xi Jinping as the new president of China since the end of 2012. Beijing has been active in a diplomatic campaign for which the Chinese Foreign Ministry has harnessed a huge number of academic frameworks, political and social institutions to clarify their position on Latin American issues.  The year 2023 marks the 43rd anniversary of the establishment of Colombian-Chinese diplomatic relations, within the framework of the vision of steady development of bilateral relations, especially the fruitful results achieved in the trade and economic cooperation of the two countries.               

China has intervened to settle the conflict in the state of Colombia since its outbreak in April 2023, as the city of Cali in the state of Colombia, with a population of about one million, witnessed fierce confrontations in the streets. The country’s former conservative president Ivan Duque who was supported by the right-wing political wing and the army leadership, carried out his previous threat to take the army to the streets in Cali under the pretext of helping the police, which exacerbated the situation on the ground and sparked widespread popular discontent. Protests erupted on April 28, 2021, against the current scrapped tax reform. Protests developed against the lack of equality and social justice, the lack of opportunities for young people, and against the violence of the Colombian police.  Bogotá’s authorities justify the involvement of the army in the face of popular protests by saying that “civilians in Cali are shooting at the police”.              

   The Colombian conflict began in the mid-sixties, as an asymmetric war between the Colombian government, paramilitary groups, crime syndicates, and communist gangs, such as: (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army), as they entered into an open conflict to increase their influence over the Colombian regions.  Multinational corporations and the US government are major international contributors to the Colombian conflict.  The causes of the conflict vary between each group and the other, with the “FARC” and other militant groups claiming to be fighting for the rights of the poor in Colombia, to protect them from government violence, and to provide social justice through communism. While the Colombian government claims to be fighting for order and stability and to protect the rights and interests of its citizens.  Paramilitary groups claim to be responding to perceived threats from guerrilla movements, and so on.  A number of political parties have been involved in drug smuggling and terrorism, and have received many criticisms for their breaches and violations of human rights.  According to a study by the “Colombian National Center for Historical Memory”, at least 220,000 people died in the conflict between 1958 and 2013, most of them civilians.

Here, the Colombian government and the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia signed a historic ceasefire agreement on June 23, 2016, in order to end a conflict that lasted five decades, but that agreement was rejected in the October 2016 referendum, in the Colombian referendum for the peace agreement in 2016, after which he took over Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in the same month, October 2016, for his efforts to bring his country closer to the end of a fifty-year civil war.

  At that time, the permanent Chinese envoy to the United Nations welcomed in October 2017 the adoption by the UN Security Council of a resolution on Colombia.  He commended the efforts made by the concerned parties in Colombia to bring about peace. Wu Haitao, Chargé d’Affaires of the Chinese Mission to the United Nations, said that China welcomes Resolution No. (2381), which was unanimously adopted by the Security Council to expand the mandate of the UN verification mission in Colombia, to also include observing a temporary armistice between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army.  The mission’s original mission was only to oversee the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known as the FARC, as the largest rebel group in the country.  At the time, the Chargé d’Affaires of the Chinese Mission to the United Nations, Wu Haitao, affirmed that: “The temporary ceasefire agreement between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army is a great progress in the Colombian peace process, and that China extends its congratulations on the achievement and commends the efforts of all parties concerned in  Colombia for peace.  Wu added, “Since the government reached a ceasefire agreement with the FARC movement in 2016, the peace process in the country has continued to make new progress, which has led to a positive momentum”, noting that “the ceasefire agreement with the “FARC” Movement and the national liberation that has entered into force has provided favorable conditions for the achievement of comprehensive and sustainable peace and stability in Colombia at an early date.

   China confirmed, through its permanent representative to the United Nations, Wu Haitao, that the verification mission in Colombia, with the help of China, will supervise Resolution No.  As soon as possible so that the verification mission with the help of China can fulfill its expanded mandate. China stressed the need for the verification mission in Colombia, on the basis of respecting the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Colombia, to ensure comprehensive implementation of the mandate by strengthening communication with the Colombian government and conducting good internal coordination of  In order to provide constructive assistance to achieve greater results in the Colombian peace process. It is noteworthy that the Security Council approved in July 2017 the establishment of (Verification Mission in Colombia) to verify the reintegration of former FARC military fighters into political, economic and social circles, as well as to provide a number of security guarantees.  On September 14, 2017, the Security Council also approved the recommendations of the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, regarding the mission’s size, operational scope and mandate, including the deployment of 120 unarmed and irregular international observers. The United Nations Mission has begun its operations to investigate the events in Colombia and resolve its conflict on September 26, 2017.

  We find the prominent Chinese role in resolving the conflict that has been raging in Colombia for many years, and the Chinese influence is evident through those hanging banners that show Chinese characters above a number of highways built by the Chinese, which is an unprecedented phenomenon in South American countries, in addition to the increase in student exchange and research studies of Colombian academics with their Chinese counterparts.  At the beginning of March 2020, the Chinese ambassador to Colombia Lan Hu and the Colombian deputy foreign minister, spoke openly about Colombia’s plans to join the “Chinese Belt and Road Initiative”, but the Corona epidemic came to hinder the agreements that were supposed to be signed by the two parties during the visit of the former Colombian president.  Duque to China in 2020, and in a phone call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Colombian counterpart Duque in February 2021, the two sides discussed the possibility of intensifying cooperation between the two initiatives, and Colombian President Ivan Duque confirmed it during an economic conference in March 2021, that: “his country considers China its main trading partner”.

  As Chinese President Xi Jinping affirmed in February 2022, that: “China stands ready to continue to provide as much support as its capabilities allow to Colombia in its battle against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and to establish cooperation with it on vaccines”. President Xi Jinping also said this during a phone conversation with former Colombian President Ivan Duque, noting that China-Colombia relations have maintained steady and sound development in recent years, and bilateral practical cooperation has been continuously upgraded and upgraded. Chinese President Xi Jinping also affirmed that since China supports a new development pattern, it will provide new cooperation opportunities for Colombia, and China is willing to work with the Colombian side to push for greater development of bilateral relations.  President Xi suggested that the Chinese and Colombian sides should continue to support each other and make better synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative and the Colombia-China initiative. President Xi added that China will continue to encourage Chinese enterprises to invest and do business in Colombia, and is willing to strengthen cooperation with Colombia through multilateral frameworks such as the United Nations.

  Hence, we understand this strong Chinese support for the peace process in Colombia, and the push for all the efforts made by the concerned parties to achieve this goal, with the Chinese side officially announcing its support for the Armistice and Settlement agreement between the (Government of Colombia and the National Liberation Army), after entering the cease-fire agreement for a period of 180 days.  into effect throughout the country. With the statement of the Chinese Foreign Ministry affirming that living in complete peace is China’s desired hope for the Colombian people, and is also conducive to achieving stability and development in Latin America, which is widely supported by China and the international community. China also affirmed its continuous efforts to build consensus for peace and that all concerned parties play a positive role in achieving lasting peace, stability and sustainable development in Colombia after resolving all ongoing internal problems and conflicts.

Dr.Nadia Helmy
Dr.Nadia Helmy
Associate Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Politics and Economics / Beni Suef University- Egypt. An Expert in Chinese Politics, Sino-Israeli relationships, and Asian affairs- Visiting Senior Researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)/ Lund University, Sweden- Director of the South and East Asia Studies Unit