The visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Eritrea ended on January 6, outlining a decidedly positive overall balance for the Asmara government.
The visit of China’s foreign minister to Eritrea follows a month’s visit to neighboring Ethiopia and, from Beijing’s point of view, is part of the same strategy aimed at consolidating political and economic relations with the two countries in the Horn of Africa. The meeting also sealed full recognition of the conduct of both Ethiopia and Eritrea in the Tigray conflict, fully and explicitly endorsing the narrative of foreign interference in the country and the region.
A language that, even without mentioning them directly, makes explicit China’s sharing of the anti-US and anti-EU narrative that has strongly characterized the last months of the conflict in Tigray, where both in Addis Ababa and Asmara denounce the existence of an international conspiracy aimed at favoring the role and capacity of Tigray and its governing party, the TPLF.
The trip to Eritrea by Minister Wang Yi, in this sense, clearly appeared as part of the same regional approach shared with Ethiopia, in an attempt to strengthen the position of Beijing as an international actor of reference of the political and security prerogatives of the two countries.
During his visit, Minister Wang announced that Beijing intends to appoint a special representative for the Horn of Africa in the near future, thus recalling the increasing strategic value that the region has assumed in the global perception of the Chinese government.
China expressed its interest into the main ports of Eritrea, Massawa and Assab, where Beijing believes it can develop civil and military infrastructure connected with development of the One Belt One Road initiative. Ambitious projects, which have already been evaluated in the past, where Eritrea could now be concretely forced to evaluate the terms of a new Chinese offer, politically difficult to refuse also in the face of economic fears.
Finally, on January 8, on the occasion of the new year, President Isaias Afwerki gave a long interview to local television ERI-TV, talking about the crisis in Ethiopia and reiterating the responsibilities of the TPLF in having triggered the conflict.
According to Afwerki, the strategy of Tigray’s political leadership was to interrupt the reform process underway in Ethiopia and, above all, to attack Eritrea. Circumstance that resulted in the need for defense and participation in the conflict.
The retreat of the federal forces from Mekelle was defined by Isaias Afwerki as unexpected, without however altering Eritrea’s defense commitment in the conflict.
The speech then focused on a long historical review of the path towards the independence of Eritrea and of the problems caused by the Tigrinya élite already during the definition of the new Ethiopian constitution, judged by Afwerki as unsuitable and harbinger of future problems.
Today’s crisis, in short, has been determined – according to the Eritrean president – by the deliberate project of the Tigrayan political forces to weaken the country through the use of ethnic antagonism, which, through the adoption of a constitution intentionally defined to divide to the advantage of the Tigrayan, has determined the basis for the crisis that has occurred over the last year.
The project of ethnic polarization that has characterized the efforts of the TPLF policy in recent years, according to the Eritrean president, is the fruit of a deliberate design aimed at weakening the stability of Ethiopia and the region, and is also the result of external interference that has cooperated with the TPLF in this direction.
A threat that has not ceased, according to Isaias Afwerki, which requires Eritrea not to lower its guard and continue along the strategic lines that have defined the Eritrean interest since its independence until today. A threat that requires the vigilant commitment of Eritrea and its active participation in the determination of regional dynamics, in order to prevent destabilization through the opposition of the people who live there.
The Eritrean president then went on to provide a retrospective historical analysis of the last half century, highlighting what in his opinion is the manifestation of a strategy of US domination of the planet, which has not been able to understand history and is now facing powerful emerging players, such as China, against which it has insufficient tools and is unable to perpetuate the strategy of domination started after the Second World War and the end of the Cold War.
The interview of the Eritrean president was long and articulate, at times repetitive, and often gave the impression of wanting to justify to Eritrea’s eyes the impasse in which the country finds itself at the moment. A stasis, characterized by the uncertain outcome of the conflict in Ethiopia and the real ability of Abiy Ahmed’s political system to promote a positive outcome of the crisis. A condition that, in short, requires Eritrea to pursue its own political strategies, countering the attempt to destabilize the region and – according to Afwerki – thwarting the results of the Eritrean commitment to ensure its independence and stability.
An invitation to continue in pursuing the resilience that has characterized the dynamics of the political and social life of Eritrea since its independence, and therefore the abandonment – in fact – of any expectation of a real change of direction in the near future.
It was certainly a speech deliberately built around the desire to celebrate the role of China and Eritrea’s renewed commitment alongside Beijing to contain the ambitions of the United States and Europe, but also a warning for the uncertainty about the future of Ethiopia and, in fact, the ability of prime minister Abiy Ahmed.