The Chinese Special Representative for the Horn of Africa, Ambassador Xue Bing, visited Eritrea on March 12, where he met President Isaias Afwerki, Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and Presidential Advisor Yemane Ghebreab.
The visit is part of China’s renewed interest in the region, strengthened by the recent appointment of Xue Bing to the rank of special representative, and the decision to put Eritrea at the top of the visit calendar is an element of no small importance.
The trip of the Chinese special representative, in fact, had multiple purposes. In the first place, it aims to promote a regional conference on the Horn of Africa, to be held by the first half of 2022 under the aegis of Beijing, in order to reinforce China’s political and economic cooperation strategy and strengthen the development of infrastructure projects designed to boost the flow of goods from the African continent towards the coast.
No less important for China is the possibility of identifying a new network of commercial ports of call between Assab and Massawa to be included in the Belt and Road Initiative, thus reinforcing the expansion and consolidation of its global strategy.
Last but not least, the political value of Eritrea is of particular relevance for China, now strongly weakened by international isolation and by the consequences of the conflict in Tigray. The fragility of the Eritrean economic system and its international marginalization have pushed President Afwerki to unhesitatingly side with Russia and China, as demonstrated also by the recent vote at the UN on the condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
This fragility of Eritrea represents an opportunity for China. The urgent need of Asmara for the development of any initiative able to alleviate the weight of the serious economic crisis, in fact, offers China the possibility to negotiate a wide range of projects with the country, and especially those related to the management of port and road infrastructures towards the Red Sea.
Opportunities that the Chinese are fully aware of, as the appointment of Special Representative Xue Bing demonstrates, and that they could achieve in a relatively short time by placing themselves at the center of a renewed and widespread regional political action.