On November 25, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in Asmara between Eritrea and China for cooperation in the development of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The document was signed at the Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs by Minister Osman Saleh and the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in Asmara, Cai Ge.
With the signing of the MoU, Eritrea becomes the 50th African state to adhere to the proposal for Chinese cooperation for the development of a network of global connections aimed at promoting the circularity of transport towards China, thereby committing itself to evaluating the development of infrastructure, especially along its Red Sea coast.
Net of the possible future economic value of the agreement, however, the signing of the MoU between Eritrea and China represents a more immediate element of a bilateral political strategy aimed, on the one hand at bypassing the international isolation of Eritrea and, on the other, at demonstrating China’s independence with respect to US and European policies in the region.
The signing of the MoU, in this way, represents an indirect tool for Beijing to demonstrate how China intends to ignore the recent sanctioning policies established by the US and some European countries, adopting an independent policy capable of demonstrating to its African counterparts how Beijing does not intend to submit its own interests and those of the countries in the region to the political assessments of the US government.
Faced with growing pressure from the United States on both Ethiopia and Eritrea, as a result of the escalation of the conflict against Tigray and the violence committed by each side during more than a year of fighting, both the Addis Ababa and Asmara governments are turning their gaze to Russia and China. The aim is to prevent the international isolation of the two countries, preventing above all the adoption of international sanctions by the UN, where Russia and China contrast the policies of the United States and those of the European Union through the adoption of a policy that they define as contrary to Washington’s unilateralism.
In this context, no concrete development project is connected to the signing of the MoU between Eritrea and China, which merely recalls the commitment of the two countries towards a policy of increasing cooperation in the infrastructure sector. Therefore, the value of the document is purely political, as underlined also by the narrative that accompanied its signing in Eritrea, built on the multi-year value of the relationship between Asmara and Beijing, which favored Eritrean independence and then supported its subsequent development.