Guo Xueli, charge d’affaires at the Chinese Embassy in the Mali capital of Bamako, made the offer Tuesday during an interview on state television.
“China firmly supports the position of Mali,” he said. “We are going to bring our assistance to the extent possible, specifically in the military where we already have a very old cooperation.”
The offer is the latest move by Beijing to increase its global presence and influence on the mineral-rich African continent. A policy of “soft diplomacy” has led to a slew of new Chinese-built schools, hospitals, roads and much-needed technological investments in the West African country in recent years, while opening Chinese goods to a vast and largely untapped African market.
The Mali government has been battling Islamist rebels in the north of the country since they took control of the area from separatist ethnic Touareg fighters in May. The rebels took advantage of a political crisis in the south triggered by the ouster of President Amadou Toure in a March 22 coup.
The transitional government, led by Dioncounda Traore, has been bogged down by internal power struggles and dissension over the need for foreign troops in the country, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
The interim president earlier this month formally asked for military help from the Economic Community of West African States. The United Nations Security Council said on Sept. 21 it will consider a request from the 15-nation ECOWAS for military intervention against the Islamists.
But Western diplomats have privately expressed skepticism about ECOWAS’s current plans. It also remains unclear whether Russia would support a resolution allowing military intervention.
France, Mali’s former colonial ruler, offered to provide logistical support to any West African operation to retake control of northern Mali, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said last week.