By Ismail A Mohamed
The opaque and peculiar interventions of the Chinese government and companies in Somali affairs have been evident cross the country and will exacerbate the precarious situation even further. Though it is hard to comprehend as an outsider what sparked such interventionist policies, certainly demand for energy, minerals and raw materials are the possible catalysts among the many unknowns lurking in the horizon.
The advent China’s warships off the coast of Somalia in 2009 to protect its commercial vessels from the pirates marked the Asian giant’s entry into the fragile Horn of Africa nation. The quest of any emerging power has been to go beyond its borders to protect its strategic national interest; to shape, influence and even conquer new territories. The crisis in Somalia has given China an opportunity to test its might and fulfill its ambitions.
General Chen Bingde, the chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, suggested May to the international community to attack pirates’ leaders on land in order to dislodge them from their bases. But the pirates have no permanent bases and such a colossal error of judgment will cause collateral damage to the coastal communities. Yet China is against any military interventions in the world except the one in Somalia.
Geopolitics is never static; it correlates with capitalism. Until the recent past the relationship between the two countries has been friendly, a mutual understanding based on respecting each other’s internal affairs. However the new menacing, opportunistic approach of the dragon has changed all that. It seems Somalia is cursed for its strategic location. Visible and invisible conspiring forces are working tirelessly over its disintegration to divide it into a smaller semi-autonomous regions. China has played an active role in that strategy. It has funded, according to Wikileaks cables in 2010, the creation of Azania or Jubaland, to create a buffer zone to protect Kenya from the radical group of Al Shabaab. Azania was known to the Chinese as Zésàn by the 3rd century CE; even the name has Chinese background.
The trilateral agreements among Ethiopia, China and breakaway state of Somaliland vindicate the illicit activities of the Chinese in Somalia. According to reports, Hong Kong-based PetroTrans Company Ltd signed a deal with the Ethiopian government to purchase gas and oil over a 25-year period. The Chinese company will invest close to $4 billion in developing oil and gas reserves in blocks 3, 4, 11, 15, 12, 16, 17 and 20 in the Ogaden region. The Somaliland port of Berbera will be used to export the gas and the oil. Somaliland is not recognized country internationally; it does not have any legal jurisdiction to make such agreements under the international law.
Even in the hour of need when Somalia is ravaged by drought and famine, China has contributed the least, commensurate with its wealth. The majority of the pledges it made to famine victims in the Horn Africa went to Kenya and Ethiopia, even though the epicenter of the crisis is in Somalia. China needs to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Somalia, just as it does not like any intervention in its thorny issue of Taiwan.
Ismail A Mohamed writes about piracy and Horn of Africa’s current affairs.