03.12.2017 Author: Dmitry Bokarev

The Role of China in the Fate of Somalia

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The current events in Somalia cause even greater concern. Against the background of the severe economic situation and the military confrontation of the many groups, having divided the country into the spheres of influence throughout the decades of the civil war, a new threat appeared, capable of aggravating the situation considerably and make Somalia one of the problematic spots on the Earth. The question now is about the terror group ISIS (banned in the Russian Federation), which recently developed its activity in Somalia with the view of seizing power in the country and transforming it into its new staging ground. Of additional concern is the location of Somalia at the shore of the Gulf of Aden – a strategically important area of the marine communication between Europe and Asia.

Nowadays, many countries participate in the provision of stability in the region, first of all by military methods. In the waters of the Gulf of Aden, the Naval Forces of many countries are present, sent there to tackle the Somalian pirates. Also, on the territory of Somalia, police operations against the pirates are held periodically, as well as military anti-terror operations.

However, it is quite evident that the problems of Somalia demand taking complex measures from the international community, the main goal of which would be improvement of the social-economic situation in the country. This is necessary to decrease the extremist sentiments and defuse the terror groups, which would lose the support of the Somalian population. Heavy-handed approach in the fight against terrorism and other types of criminality should play an auxiliary role.

One should particularly note the activity of China from the point of view of a combination of heavy-handed and economic methods of improvement of the situation in Somalia.

China is actively increasing its economic presence in all countries of Africa, however Somalia plays a specific role for the Celestial Empire, regarding its geographical position, along with Djibouti, Eritrea and Egypt. Along the shores of these countries, an important area of the marina communication passes between Europe and Asia, including the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and the Suez Canal. Through this narrow corridor, almost all vessels pass, which intend to get from the Indian Ocean into the Mediterranean Sea, as its alternative would be a much longer and much more expensive way around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope.

As is known, China made one of major stakes in their future development for the global transport project ‘One Road One Belt Initiative’ (OBOR). The main part of OBOR is The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road project which should include the main maritime routes connecting Europe, Asia and Africa. Thus, the security of the navigation in the Suez Canal and adjacent regions is so important for China.

The Chinese warship were sent to the coast of Somalia back in 2008, soon after the United Nations Security Council approved the affected countries’ using their Navy and Air Forces to combat Somali pirates. By the end of 2017, 26 squadrons of People’s Liberation Army Navy participated in patrolling of the ‘foul’ waters. According to mass media reports, during this time they neutralized more than three thousand attacks on the cargo ships. The contribution of Chinese Navy patrols in decreasing the pirate hijackings was repeatedly noted by the United National Security Council.

In October 2017, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China announced that China would continue protecting the civilian navigation in the Gulf of Aden and would send several more squadrons to the Shores of Somalia.

We should remember that in summer 2017, the first Chinese overseas military base was officially opened in Djibouti. Djibouti shares a border with Somalia and is also situated on the coast of the Gulf of Aden. From the view of control over navigation between Europe and Asia, Djibouti has even greater significance than Somalia, as it is located on the coast of the Bab-el-Mandeb, a narrow strait between the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. It is not by chance that the military bases of the USA, France and Japan have already been deployed in this country.

The Chinese base was established to support the humanitarian and peace-making process in Africa and West Asia, as well as for protection and evacuation of the Chinese citizens working there, in case of emergency.

The ships of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, patrolling the restless waters near Somalia and Yemen, will be able to get maintenance and refilling there. Thus, the Chinese military presence in the region of the Gulf of Aden became solid and stable, which, without doubt, will be good for the future of ‘The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road’, and can also be beneficial in combatting the terror threat on the territory of Somalia and other countries of the region. However, as it was mentioned before, to ensure peace and stability, the military presence and power method would not be enough. A considerable change in the economic situation is required. China is doing work in that direction too.

It is commonly known that in 2015 in Johannesburg, the 6th Forum on China-Africa Cooperation took place. At this Forum, Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, announced that China would invest $60 billion into the economics of the countries of the Dark Continent, as well as it would implement several infrastructure projects until 2018.

Besides, China carries on a bilateral dialogue with each African state separately, making additional investments into these countries, not related to the plan adopted in Johannesburg.

China started to offer financial support to Somalia back in 1977. Moreover, the two countries are collaborating in the oil and gas sphere.

Since the OBOR Initiative was launched, the states, via which the key transport route go, started attracting special attention of China. Thus, in May 2017, in Beijing, the grandiose OBOR Forum took place, where the high-ranking officials from more than 100 countries were present. At this event, the People’s Republic of China assumed the responsibilities on providing food assistance to their OBOR partners, who were experiencing hard times. In accordance with these commitments, in June 2017, China delivered more than 2.8 thousand tonnes of rice and other food products to Somalia.

In September 2017, during the session of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New-York, Wand Yi, the Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China met Hassan Ali Khayre, the current Prime Minister of Somalia, and during this meeting, the mutual interest of both parties in the development of the bilateral cooperation was confirmed.

China also assists Somalia via international organisations. Thus, in November 2017, China allocated $2 million to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as aid to the starving Somalian children.

As a conclusion, one might say that despite the extremely difficult situation in Somalia, probably, in the nearest future, in this country, hope might emerge for overcoming the crisis. Somalia, Djibouti and other countries, whose shores form a corridor between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, are very important for The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road project, being the OBOR subproject. In its turn, OBOR is highly important for China. Quite possibly that this will force China to take effective steps to restore Somalia’s economy and return to the path of peaceful development.

Dmitry Bokarev, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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