China’s first envoy to the Horn of Africa offers to mediate in the region

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NAIROBI, Kenya – China’s first special envoy to the Horn of Africa on Monday offered to mediate disputes in the region as Beijing seeks to bolster its influence and protect its investments from conflict.

“I personally am ready to offer mediation efforts for the peaceful settlement of disputes based on the will of countries in this region,” Xue Bing said at a China-led peace conference in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

The strategic Horn of Africa region is anchored by Ethiopia, which has recently been shaken by the war that has spread from the northern Tigray region. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said last week that the government does not want war anymore. He denied reports of negotiations with rival Tigrayan leaders, but said a government commission would soon present a roadmap on the issue.

An Ethiopian government spokesman, Legisi Tulu, did not immediately respond on Monday to a question whether the government would accept the Chinese mediation offer. Other mediation efforts have continued in recent months by the African Union, the United States and Kenya.

The China-led peace conference was attended by foreign ministers and representatives from Sudan, Somalia, South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti. It is worth noting that Eritrea, which joined the Ethiopian forces in the Tigray conflict, was notably absent, and was among the African countries visited by the Chinese foreign minister early this year. The Eritrean Minister of Information did not immediately respond when asked about the absence.

China’s interests in the Horn of Africa include its first overseas military base in Djibouti. Oil investments in Sudan and South Sudan; industrialization in Ethiopia; and a set of infrastructure projects.

In his speech, the Chinese envoy referred to the region’s “complex and intertwined issues of race, religion, and borders” and noted that it can be “difficult to deal with, as many of them date back to the colonial era.” China, like Russia, emphasized its lack of colonial activities in Africa unlike many European countries.

“Let us take our share of responsibility for the failure of (regional peace) and commit to taking the fate of our region into our own hands,” Radwan Hussein, the Ethiopian National Security Adviser, said at the conference, citing an interest in avoiding “unjustified external interference and undue pressure.” This was the subject of Ethiopia’s response to criticism by some in the West over the Tigray conflict.

Ethiopia has also been at odds with neighboring Sudan over disputed territories and Addis Ababa’s construction of a huge and controversial dam in the Blue Nile that will be Africa’s largest hydroelectric power station.

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