The nine Chinese employees of Sinopec killed on Tuesday in the disputed Ogaden region of Ethiopia are not the first casualties of Beijing's 'go out' policy of securing foreign supplies of natural resources. Nor will they be the last. The unfortunate oil exploration workers were apparently caught in the cross-fire when the military wing of the Ogaden National Liberation Front attacked an oil installation at Obala near Ethiopia's border with the unrecognised state of Somaliland. A number of other Chinese were taken prisoner. Made up of Muslim ethnic Somalis, the ONLF is fighting for Ogadeni independence from Ethiopia, whose government is dominated by ethnic Tigrayan Christians. In a statement released after the attack, the ONLF claimed it had previously warned Beijing that Chinese oil companies operating in the Ogaden would be at risk. 'We will not allow the mineral resources of our people to be exploited by this regime or any firm that it enters into an illegal contract with,' the statement declared. The killings in Ethiopia highlight the dangers inherent in Beijing's strategy of turning a blind eye to repression and bad governance in its eagerness to secure supplies of oil and other natural resources. In recent years Chinese state-backed companies have bolstered their chances of winning lucrative resource contracts by pledging to invest generously in local infrastructure in countries where few other businesses would dare venture. Last year, for example, Huawei Technologies and two other mainland companies agreed to pump US$1.5 billion into Ethiopia's telecommunications system. The country has been off-limits for most western companies since the 2005 police massacre of 193 political protesters. Ethiopia is not the only African country where mainland companies have run into trouble. In January, nine Chinese employees of the Chinese National Petroleum Company were kidnapped at gun-point in the troubled delta region of Nigeria. As in the Ogaden, delta inhabitants accuse foreign oil companies of assisting the national government to cheat them out of their rightful income from local natural resources. By extending no strings attached loans to African governments, Beijing has also been accused of undermining international efforts to promote sound governance. For example, a proposed World Bank loan to Nigeria's railway system with strict anti-corruption provisions recently fell through after China offered a far bigger loan to rebuild the network without stipulating any onerous clean-up conditions. Beijing's enthusiastic support for unsavoury governments is also causing problems elsewhere in Africa. In Zimbabwe, where China is the biggest foreign investor with over US$600 million committed according to local officials, opposition figures say Beijing is behind President Robert Mugabe's brutal crackdown on local street traders, because they compete with Chinese businesses. Meanwhile, Beijing's support for the Khartoum government is widely regarded as instrumental in prolonging conflict in the war-torn Sudanese province of Darfur. In a bid not to upset the regime, last September China abstained from a Security Council vote on deploying United Nations peacekeepers to Darfur. Beijing had a lot to lose. As of the end of 2005, China had invested more than US$350 million in the country. Each year China buys billions of US dollars-worth of petroleum from Sudan and the mainland is the regime's main arms supplier. Recently some signs have emerged that Beijing is sensitive to international criticism over its readiness to leap into bed with ugly partners, especially in the run-up to next year's Olympics. A list published last month by the National Development and Reform Commission of suitable countries for Chinese oil company investment omitted Iran, Sudan and Nigeria. However, as long as Beijing continues its support for repressive and corrupt but resource-rich governments, there will be more tragedies like the one this week in the Ogaden.