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Ethiopia China’s Gateway to Africa

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For centuries, Africa has been a continent that has witnessed colonial rivalries between global powers. The continent is currently under the influence of countries such as China, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Endless economic problems, endless coups and civil wars, as well as governments collapsed due to the activities of armed terrorist groups, cause other powers to exist on the continent.

Due to the increasing tension in the Middle East, Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, the insecurity of the strait and its closure to the transit have increased the concerns of the countries in the region about the possibility of new problems. For this reason, African countries have sought alternative waterways to maintain their trade relations. The best options are the Horn of Africa and the Babulmendep Strait. This is b ecause being active in the Horn of Africa has been evaluated as an opportunity for the powers in the region to continue trade with other countries of the world.

Horn of Africa consists of Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and Djibouti. The geographical location of the region in the Red Sea is very important for China’s interests. Somalia maintains access to the Babulmendep Strait, an important commercial junction through which 12 percent of the world’s trade volume passes. This strait is used to transport many critical products as well as crude oil and refined petroleum products.

Today, after two decades of “no war, no peace” policy between Eritrea and Ethiopia, both countries are deepening their diplomatic relations. Besides, the aforementioned states are improving the measure of regional stability by including Somalia in a comprehensive joint agreement aimed at improving economic and political ties.[1] Given the global importance of this region, it is not surprising that China’s economic, political and military focus is on the Horn of Africa.

Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, is one of the gateways to the African continent for Beijing. Ethiopia; with its geographical location, presence of important African institutions, including the African Union, and a population of 90 million, has become one of the countries that China aims to deepen relations with.

Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Dina Mufti said in an interview with Xinhua, the official news agency of China, that since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1970, relations between the parties have developed in various fields. Additionally, Mufti emphasized that since its establishment in 2000, relations in the fields of economy, politics, security, technology transfer and academia have deepened within the framework of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum (FOCAC).[2]

Chinese companies invest heavily in the infrastructure and industrial parks of that country. The Ethiopian Government, on the other hand, has managed to slow down China’s growing influence. According to Wijk, Chinese investments fits in with Ethiopia’s industrialization strategy aimed at improving the country’s infrastructure, developing an export-oriented manufacturing sector, and better access to the Djibouti Port.[3]

On the other hand, in Ethiopia, China is financing the Aysha Wind Energy Project, 75 percent of which has been completed as of July 2021, as part of the Belt-Road Project. The project, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2022, was signed by a Chengdu-based state-owned enterprise called Dongfang Electric. The project aims to increase green energy levels and Ethiopia’s national energy production. Moreover, electricity will be supplied to industrial parks on the Ethiopian-Djibouti Economic Corridor and the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway.[4] However, the friction between the socialist Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which was active in Ethiopian politics until 2019, and the Ethiopian Federal Government, has deepened since last year, especially due to the postponement of the elections.

As it is known, the Ethiopian Federal Government postponed the general elections due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 epidemic. After Addis Ababa’s attempt to postpone the general elections, the TPLF held local elections in its region in September 2020; however, the Federal Government has deemed it illegal. After this incident, the conflict escalated.

Ethiopia is aware of the negative effects of internal conflict on its trade relationship with China. After announcing the successful evacuation of 600 Chinese from the Tigray Region, Ethiopia’s Ambassador to China said:[5]

“We know that safety and security and peace and stability are of key importance for foreign investors so that the industrialization process we started in Ethiopia can continue without major disruption, so we are trying to normalize the situation.”

After its workers were evacuated from Tigray with the help of the central government in the capital, Addis Ababa, China tried to strike a balance between protecting its interests and maintaining relations with the Ethiopian Government. Beijing has openly opposed any possible American sanctions against Ethiopia, and Chinese officials have assured that they will oppose interference in Ethiopia’s internal affairs.

At a press conference in February 2021, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Webin expressed Beijing’s willingness to provide emergency food aid and called on the international community to support efforts to stabilize Tigray.[6] In addition to this, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently went to Addis Ababa for an official visit, and at the joint press conference he held with the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, he stated that the aforementioned visit showed China’s trust in Ethiopia and its support for the Abiy Ahmed Government. Wang Yi said that China opposes any attempt on Ethiopia’s internal affairs and stated that Ethiopian citizens have the wisdom to solve their problems and ensure stability in the administration.[7]

As a result, China is expanding its sphere of influence in the Horn of Africa, one of the world’s most important maritime trade routes. The fact that Addis Ababa is the gateway to the African continent is the main reason for Beijing’s special interest in Ethiopia. For this reason, China invests heavily in Ethiopia. Beijing invested nearly 10 billion euros from 2010 to 2015 to help Ethiopia develop its infrastructure. Apart from this, Chinese companies continue to build roads and infrastructure, especially industrial parks, all over Ethiopia. That’s why Beijing is trying to make China-Ethiopia economic relations a model for other African countries.


[1] Gian Paolo Sabatini, “China’s Rising Influence in the Horn of Africa: A Brief Case Study”, Medium, https://medium.com/the-political-economy-review/chinas-rising-influence-in-the-horn-of-africa-a-brief-case-study-f8e7dfbd9fe9, (Date of Accession: 04.12.2021).

[2] “Interview: Ethiopia-China Relations a Good Example of Cooperation”, Xinhua, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/africa/2020-10/22/c_139458783.htm, (Date of Accession: 05.12.2021).

[3] “Paper on Ethiopia in China’s Belt and Road Initiative”, Maastricht School of Management, https://www.msm.nl/news-events-and-blogs/news/paper-on-ethiopia-chinas-belt-road-initiative-bri, (Date of Accession: 05.12.2021).

[4] Ameera Rao, “As China’s Belt and Road Initiative steams ahead in Africa, West Plays Catch up”, Firstpost, https://www.firstpost.com/world/chinese-yutu-2-rover-spots-mystery-hut-on-far-side-of-the-moon-view-viral-pictures-here-10190061.html, (Date of Accession: 05.12.2021).

[5] Austin Bodetti, “What Ethiopia’s Ethnic Unrest Means for China”, The Diplomat, https://thediplomat.com/2020/12/what-ethiopias-ethnic-unrest-means-for-china/, (Date of Accession: 05.12.2021).

[6] Lukas fiala, “Why Ethiopia’s Fate Matters to China”, ISPI, https://www.ispionline.it/en/pubblicazione/why-ethiopias-fate-matters-china-32469, (Date of Accession: 05.12.2021).

[7] “China Warns of Intervention in Ethiopia and Support for Abi Ahmed”, ISNA, https://www.isna.ir/news/1400091007986/, (Date of Accession: 05.12.2021).

Dr. Seyedmohammad Seyedi ASL
Dr. Seyedmohammad Seyedi ASL
Seyedmohammad Seyedi Asl, 2008 yılında Urmiye Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Klimatoloji Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. 2012 yılında Tahran Üniversitesi Coğrafya Fakültesi Jeopolitik Bölümü’nde savunduğu “Explanation of Geopolitical Relationships of Iran and Azerbaijan Republic with Constructivism Approach” başlıklı teziyle yüksek lisans derecesini almaya haz kazanmıştır. 2021 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda sunduğu “İran’ın Dış Politikasında Şia Mezhep Faktörün Etkisi ve Kullanımı: Jeopolitik Bir Değerlendirme” başlıklı teziyle doktora eğitimini tamamlamıştır. Türkçe, Farsça ve İngilizce bilen Asl’ın bu dillerde yayınlanmış çok sayıda akademik çalışması bulunmaktadır.