China offers to mediate Djibouti-Eritrea border row as it expands military presence in Africa

The offer to help resolve the East African countries’ dispute comes after China’s fleet began to sail to its first overseas base in the Horn of Africa

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 July, 2017, 11:34am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 July, 2017, 11:15pm

China has offered to mediate in the lingering border dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea, weeks after its fleet began to sail to its first overseas base in the Horn of Africa.

Kuang Weilin, the Chinese Ambassador to the African Union, suggested that China will consider sending troops to the border between the two East African countries, the Associated Press reported on Monday.

Kuang stressed that Beijing was ready to help with mediation, if requested.

The Djibouti-Eritrea border friction over Dumeira Mountain and Dumeira Island recently escalated as Qatar, a significant and influential investor in both countries and the only mediator between them, withdrew its peacekeeping forces in the area following its diplomatic crisis with other Gulf nations.

While China is becoming an increasingly important trading partner and investor for the African continent, it has begun to have a military presence in line with its diplomatic and economic offensive.

China sends troops to military base in Djibouti, widening reach across Indian Ocean

As China’s trade and investment quickly expands in Africa, Beijing has a growing interest in ensuring the region’s peace and stability.

“Wherever Chinese interests go, means and tools to protect them should follow,” said Zhang Hongming, an African studies expert at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The country this month installed its first military base abroad in Djibouti. The global economic giant was following the steps of countries such as France, the United States and Japan. Approximately 400 personnel are expected to be part of the force.

China has said the base has only logistical objectives and no defense aims. In particular, the facility has been presented as a support base for anti-piracy, peacekeeping and UN humanitarian missions in Africa and West Asia.

Shu Zhan, the former Chinese ambassador to Eritrea, told the South China Morning Post that China’s intention to mediate in the border issue has no connection with the Djibouti port and signals no change in China’s longstanding non-interference policy.

“The disputes over Dumeira Mountain have been recurring, and China have been mediating in it for long time, mostly through the mechanism of the African Union,” Shu said. “I don’t see much difference this time.”

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But direct military intervention is still not an option, Shu said. “If China would send a peacekeeping force there, everything would strictly follow three principles – authorised by the United Nations, requested by the African Union, and agreed by both parties.

“The Chinese navy in the Djibouti port is there to protect the international trade route in the waters, and the peacekeepers, if any, are ground forces to carry out UN missions to avoid conflict. They are completely different forces,” Shu said.

He added that China would only protect its interests through diplomatic and cooperative efforts.

“China would not do anything that is like a colonialist,” Shu said.