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Agence Ecofin
10 June 2022 Last update on Friday, June 10, 2022 At 9:14 AM

China is breaking with its sacrosanct policy of non-interference by sponsoring a conference for peace in the Horn of Africa, scheduled for June 20-22 in Addis Ababa. A major turning point, motivated by the interests of the Middle Kingdom in this region, where Beijing has installed its first military base abroad.

Beijing has just renounced its principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other sovereign states, long established as a dogma by the Chinese authorities. The Asian giant, which pours billions of dollars into the African continent every year to finance infrastructure projects, while ensuring that its influence is limited to the economic sphere, has confirmed the sponsorship of a conference for peace in the Horn of Africa, according to information reported on Monday, June 6 by the daily South China Morning Post.

The conference, which aims to reduce tensions in this region plagued by complex and interrelated political, security and humanitarian crises, will be organized in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. It should register the participation of all the countries of the region, according to the English-speaking Chinese daily.

The official Sudanese Suna news agency announced that the Chinese ambassador to Khartoum, Ma Xinmin, invited Sudan to participate during a meeting with the acting undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. foreigners, Nadir Yousif Al-Tayeb. Suna also indicated that other states in the region have been invited to take part in this conference, as well as the commissioner of the African Union (AU) and the executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional block grouping together seven East African countries (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda).

A first in the history of Chinese diplomacy

The Horn of Africa Peace Conference, to be held at the African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa, a building designed, funded and built by China, is a first in the history of Chinese diplomacy. Beijing had hitherto castigated US interference in the internal affairs of Horn of Africa countries, which it said “are able to solve their problems without outside interference”.

Some experts believe that this shift in strategy is primarily driven by China’s growing economic influence in the region.

“China’s sponsorship of a peace conference in the Horn of Africa represents a real break with the policy of non-interference that Beijing has long practiced, and which seems to be evolving as its engagement in Africa increases. deepens,” said Aaron Tesfaye, professor of political science at William Paterson University in New Jersey, quoted by South China Morning Post. And to add: “This conference is also a demonstration of the relative economic power of China, and an attempt to play a more significant role in global governance. It also marks changes in Beijing’s perception of threats to its interests abroad.

Important economic and military interests

The Middle Kingdom has significant economic interests in the Horn of Africa. This region is indeed a major destination for loans disbursed by Beijing as part of its “New Silk Roads” initiative to finance ports, railways, dams and highways, particularly in Kenya, Ethiopia and in Sudan.

China has thus financed to the tune of 4.5 billion dollars a rail link between Ethiopia and Djibouti, the country where it has established its first military base abroad.

Chinese construction companies are also involved in the construction of the Great Renaissance dam, on the course of the Blue Nile, in Ethiopia, a project which is causing tensions with the countries located downstream (Sudan and Egypt) fearing a decrease in flows. water and silt inputs.

Chinese groups are also making inroads in Eritrea, which joined the New Silk Roads Initiative last November to secure funding for its new port and rail projects.

However, these economic interests are increasingly threatened by the proliferation of conflicts and crises in the region, including the political unrest following last October’s coup in Sudan, the conflict between the Ethiopian federal government and the rebels of Tigray or the resurgence of activism of the jihadist group al-Shabab in Somalia and Kenya.

Try the Asian way after the failure of the Western way

China had first mentioned holding a peace conference in the Horn of Africa last February, in the wake of the appointment of diplomat Xue Bing as special envoy for the region. This former Chinese ambassador to Papua New Guinea has carried out an intense diplomatic ballet in recent weeks which has taken him to Kenya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, South Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia to attempt to bring together sometimes diametrically opposed points of view.

Experts believe, however, that Chinese mediation has little chance of success. “With its decision to play a constructive role in resolving regional conflicts, China is officially entering uncharted territory. His approach marks the beginning of a competition between two approaches in this field: the Western way, which has been tried and failed, and the Asian way which has yet to be tried in the Horn of Africa”, emphasizes Seifudein Adem, professor of international studies at the Japanese University of Doshisha, of Ethiopian origin.

More categorical, David Shinn, professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, and former US ambassador to Ethiopia, believes that the conference should not lead to significant results. “The issues are many and complex, and the parties involved have shown little willingness to compromise. China knows how to listen, but it has so far shown little interest in taking the strong measures that are often necessary to resolve a conflict,” he observes.

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